Archive for May, 2009

May 30, 2009

U.S. Debt Hits Taxpayers

Taxpayers are on the hook for an extra $55,000 a household to cover rising federal commitments made just in the past year for retirement benefits, the national debt and other government promises, a USA TODAY analysis shows. The 12% rise in red ink in 2008 stems from an explosion of federal borrowing during the recession, plus an aging population driving up the costs of Medicare and Social Security. The latest increase raises federal obligations to a record $546,668 per household in 2008. That’s quadruple what the average U.S. household owes for all mortgages, car loans, credit cards and other debt combined.

  • Ultimately, government debt falls on taxpayer shoulders. Technically, not only is the government bankrupt, but so are over 90% of all citizens who don’t happen to have over half-a-million in assets to cover their share of government debt. Pray that our creditors (including Japan, China, , Russia and the OPEC oil-exporting nations) don’t call in the debt and force us to default. Our future is in their hands.

Gay Activist to Oversee Public Classroom Safety

The founder of the homosexual activist group GLSEN, which promotes homosexual clubs in high schools, middle schools and grade schools and is the driving force behind the annual “Day of Silence” celebration of homosexuality in many districts, has been handed a federal appointment where he will be responsible for overseeing “safety” in the nation’s public schools. The appointment of Kevin Jennings was posted – with little fanfare – on a government list of federal jobs recently. He was named by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan to be the Assistant Deputy Secretary in the Office of Safe Schools. He previously worked to raise money for the presidential campaign for President Obama.

Shift In Home-Schooling

Parents who home-school children increasingly are white, wealthy and well-educated — and their numbers have nearly doubled in a decade, a new federal government report says. As of spring 2007, an estimated 1.5 million, or 2.9% of all school-age children in the USA, were home-schooled, up from 1.7% in 1999. Perhaps most significant: The ratio of home-schooled boys to girls has shifted significantly. In 1999, it was 49% boys, 51% girls. Now boys account for only 42%; 58% are girls. In 1999, 36% of home-schooling families earned more than $50,000. Now 60.0% earn more than $50,000. The new figures come from the U.S. Department of Education, which found that 36% of parents said their most important reason for home schooling was to provide “religious or moral instruction”; 21% cited concerns about school environment. Only 17% cited “dissatisfaction with academic instruction.”

Federal Judge Refuses to Dismiss National Day of Prayer Lawsuit

A federal judge has refused to dismiss a lawsuit filed by an atheist group that claims the National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb ruled this week the case brought by the Madison-based Freedom From Religion Foundation can proceed. A federal law sets the first Thursday in May as the day for presidents to issue proclamations asking Americans to pray. Crabb says the nation’s largest group of atheists and agnostics faces a heavy burden in proving the tradition violates the Constitution’s provision for separation of church and state. But she says it should have an opportunity to do so. The Obama administration and National Day of Prayer Task Force had filed motions to dismiss the case.

Obama Defends Supreme Court Nominee

President Obama on Friday personally sought to deflect criticism of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, who finds herself under intensifying scrutiny for saying in 2001 that a female Hispanic judge would often reach a better decision than a white male judge. “I’m sure she would have restated it,” Obama flatly told NBC News, without indicating how he knew that. Sotomayor has said she made a poor word choice. The quote in question from Sotomayor has emerged as a rallying call for conservative critics who fear she will offer opinions from the bench based less on the rule of law and more on her life experience, ethnicity and gender. That issue is likely to play a central role in her Senate confirmation process.

In nearly 11 years as a federal appeals court judge, Sonia Sotomayor, has never directly ruled on whether the Constitution protects a woman’s right to an abortion. But when she has written opinions that touched tangentially on abortion disputes, she has reached outcomes in some cases that were favorable to abortion opponents. Now, some abortion rights advocates are quietly expressing unease that Judge Sotomayor may not be a reliable vote to uphold Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 abortion rights decision.

Obama Creates Cyber Czar Position

President Obama announced on Friday the creation of a “cyber czar” to oversee an enhanced security system for U.S. computer networks. He also released a report recommending how to safeguard the nation’s cyber network. “We’re not as prepared as we should be, as a government or as a country,” he said, calling cyber threats one of the most serious economic and military dangers the nation faces. Obama said he will pick the person he wants to head up a new White House office of cyber security soon, and that person will report to the National Security Council as well as to the National Economic Council, in a nod to the importance of computers to the economy.

Swine N1H1 Flu

French authorities say a U.S. official in Normandy to prepare President Obama’s upcoming visit has been hospitalized with swine flu. Eleven other members of the U.S. delegation were placed in isolation for 24 hours in their hotel. A group of 21 students and three teachers from a Maryland private school has been released from quarantine after being held by the Chinese government over fears about swine flu.

Christianity Today to Close Four Publications, Lays Off 31

Religion News Service reports that publishing powerhouse Christianity Today International (CTI) is shutting down four publications and laying off 31 workers. The ministry cited hard times in its industry. According to a plan announced May 22, two magazines will fold: Today’s Christian Woman and the Campus Life College Guide, which targets Christian undergrads. CTI will also cease to publish Glimpses, a worship bulletin insert with stories from Christian history, and Church Office Today, a bi-monthly newsletter read by church administrators. The moves, which reduce CTI staff numbers by 22 percent to 108 employees, mark the latest attempt to cut costs at Carol Stream, Ill.-based CTI. In January, the organization shuttered two other magazines — Marriage Partnership and Ignite Your Faith — and sold a third, Today’s Christian.

First-Time Homebuyers Get Loans & Tax Credit

Thousands of first-time homebuyers will be able to get short-term loans so they can quickly make use of a new $8,000 tax credit. The Federal Housing Administration on Friday released details of a plan in which borrowers who use FHA loans can receive the credit before they complete their taxes. The FHA had no estimate of how many borrowers would qualify. But the agency, which backs about a quarter of new-home loans, is projected to guarantee about 2.2 million loans in the next budget year. Borrowers can claim the credit by filing an amended 2008 tax return or can wait for their 2009 return.

GM to File for Bankruptcy

It appears certain that General Motors will file for bankruptcy early next week. Can GM re-emerge from Chapter 11 as a profitable and viable automaker? Other major American companies such as Texaco, Dow Corning, Delta Airlines and United Airlines have filed for Chapter 11 reorganization and successfully exited. GM enters the process, according to bankruptcy experts, with the most important element needed for an eventual exit — an outside source of financing going forward. In GM’s case, that source is named Uncle Sam. GM was hesitant to file for bankruptcy fearing no one would buy its cars, but that appears to have been overcome with the government agreeing to back its warranties, according to Picker.

Economic News

The Commerce Department’s preliminary report also showed corporate profits after taxes increased 1.1% in the first quarter, the first increase in a year, after plummeting 10.7% in the fourth quarter. Investment by businesses tumbled a record 36.9% in the first quarter, while residential investment dived 38.7%, the biggest decline since the second quarter of 1980. Consumer spending, which accounts for over two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, rose 1.5%. Spending had collapsed in the second half of last year.

Nearly a million small-business owners have been forced to find a new line of credit. Credit card issuer Advanta, which focuses on small businesses, will stop accepting new charges Saturday and existing lines of credit will be terminated. The company is wrangling with a rise in uncollectible debt and overdue credit card payments. In addition, it is losing funding from an independent trust that provides resources for new transactions.

Gasoline and oil prices continued a recession-defying march higher Friday, doubling in the past six months largely on optimism of a strengthening economy. Oil rose to a six-month high above $66 per barrel, marking its largest monthly percentage gain in more than a decade. Oil prices jumped around 30% this month, the largest monthly rise since March 1999. The national average price for a gallon of regular unleaded gas edged up to $2.488 on Saturday That marks the 32nd consecutive daily increase. In that one-month period, the average price of gas jumped more than 20%.

The stock market posted its third straight monthly gain in May, with the Dow Jones Industrial benchmark closing at 8,500. However, this is still way below its peak of just over 14,000 prior to the recession.

North Korea

North Korea defiantly test-fired another short-range missile Friday and warned it would act in “self-defense” if provoked by the U.N. Security Council, which is considering tough sanctions against the communist regime for conducting a nuclear test. It is the sixth short-range missile North Korea has test-fired since Monday’s nuclear test. With tensions high on the Korean peninsula, Chinese fishing boats left the region, possibly to avoid any maritime skirmishes between the two Koreas. Fears have increased of military skirmishes, particularly in disputed waters off the western coast, after North Korea also renounced the truce that has kept peace between the Koreas since the Korean War ended in 1953. The U.S. and South Korea put their military forces on high alert Thursday.

Afghanistan

The U.S. coalition troops killed 35 militants and wounded another 13 during a clash in southern Afghanistan, the U.S. military said in a statement. The clash follows another battle in the eastern Paktika province early on Thursday, where 34 militants, including Arab and Pakistanis, were killed. The violence is escalating in Afghanistan, as additional U.S. troops move into the country and try to reverse the Taliban gains of the last three years.

Pakistan

Pakistani troops have retaken the largest town in the Swat Valley from the Taliban as the army presses its offensive against militants in the country’s northwest, the army spokesman said Saturday. Government forces had full control of Mingora, though they were still meeting pockets of resistance from fighters on the outskirts of the town. Government troops have been advancing steadily into the Swat region, bombarding towns from the air and fighting house-to-house with Taliban gunmen. The fighting has caused more than 2 million people to flee the region, raising fears of a humanitarian crisis. The military says it has killed more than 1,100 militants in its month-old campaign to rout the Taliban from Swat and surrounding regions, an offensive that is strongly backed by Washington.

Weather

Hundreds of thousands of people flooded out of their homes by deadly Cyclone Aila crowded government shelters in eastern India and Bangladesh on Friday, and officials said the risk of disease outbreaks was growing. The death toll from Monday’s cyclone rose to 264 people in the two countries. In India, the cyclone left 500,000 homeless. More than 130,000 are crowded in government-run camps, and relief officials are using aircraft and boats to deliver food, water and medicine to others sheltering in schools, office buildings or friends’ homes.

May 28, 2009

Calif. Supreme Court Upholds Gay Marriage Ban

The California Supreme Court upheld on Tuesday a ban on same-sex marriage but said 18,000 gay couples who got hitched before the initiative passed can stay married. In a 6-1 ruling, the court said voters had a right to reverse its decision. The same court legalized same-sex marriage in May 2008, but a state amendment banning the practice was approved by voters in November. Justices disagreed with gay rights activists who said that only elected lawmakers had the power to override the state Supreme Court. A USA TODAY/Gallup Poll of 1,015 Americans taken May 7-10 showed 57% oppose same-sex marriage.

Conservative Lutherans Make Open Plea on Homosexuality

The Christian Post reports that conservative Lutheran scholars and pastors are pleading for their denomination to reject various measures that would support civil unions and gay ordination. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) will vote on the measures at the Churchwide Assembly in August. “The proposals to be considered by the Churchwide Assembly this summer from the Task Force for ELCA Studies on Sexuality are perceived by some as compromises that will permit the ELCA to live faithfully with internal diversity on controversial ethical questions. The proposals are in fact no compromise,” the letter states. “They clearly imply that same-sex blessings and the ordination and rostering of homosexual persons in committed relationships are acceptable within the ELCA.” Currently, the ELCA allows the ordination of gays and lesbians if they remain celibate.

Response to Court Nominee Spans Spectrum

Reaction to the Supreme Court nomination of federal appeals Judge Sonia Sotomayor on Tuesday spanned the spectrum of opinion, from rave reviews to thumbs down to let’s wait and see. Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele said Republicans “will reserve judgment on Sonia Sotomayor until there has been a thorough and thoughtful examination of her legal views.” Sotomayor drew plenty of support from Democrats. Wendy Long, counsel to the conservative Judicial Confirmation Network, called Sotomayor “a liberal judicial activist of the first order who thinks her own personal political agenda is more important than the law as written.” She also said Sotomayor has an “extremely high rate of her decisions being reversed,” which long attributed to liberal activism.

In a speech as a Court of Appeals judge, Sotomayor said, “The court is where policy is made.” Her opinions have followed that approach. What she was referring to was that public policy was made by the Court of Appeals, not by the Legislature. In a recent case, Ricci v. DeStefano, Sotomayor ruled that reverse racism was to be used in making decisions. She ruled in favor of a city that used racially discriminatory practices to deny promotions to firefighters. In Ricci, an applicant to be a firefighter scored the highest on the test but was denied the job because he was not black.

Judge Sonia Sotomayor is listed as a member of the National Council of La Raza, a group that’s promoted driver’s licenses for illegal aliens, amnesty programs, and no immigration law enforcement by local and state police. According the American Bar Association, Sotomayor is a member of the NCLR, which bills itself as the largest national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization in the U.S. Meaning “the Race,” La Raza also has connections to groups that advocate the separation of several southwestern states from the rest of America.

Swine H1N1 Flu

America’s epidemic of new H1N1 flu may have peaked except in New York, New Jersey and New England, a leading federal health expert said Tuesday. The agency has tallied 6,764 confirmed or probable cases and 10 deaths nationwide, Schuchat says, more than half of the global total of 12,954 cases in 48 countries as reported Tuesday by the World Health Organization.

A cruise ship with 2,000 passengers aboard has cut short a voyage and will head to an Australian port for medical help after three crewmembers were diagnosed Thursday with swine flu. The number of swine flu cases in Australia jumped from 67 Wednesday to 103 by mid-Thursday. Elsewhere in Asia, Singapore confirmed its first swine flu infection Wednesday. South Korea confirmed four more cases of the disease, bringing the total there to 33. And in the Philippines, tests confirmed four more cases of the virus in guests who attended a wedding in the country, raising the country’s total to 10.

More Calif. Budget Cuts

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Tuesday proposed eliminating welfare for 500,000 families and terminating health coverage for nearly 1 million children to help close the state’s ballooning budget deficit. The Republican governor’s administration released details of $5.5 billion in cuts, a week after state voters defeated special election ballot measures. The new proposals are on top of those previously announced by Schwarzenegger. Also among the cuts are stops to college fee assistance for thousands of students, fewer vocational training opportunities for state inmates and the elimination of $70 million in funds for the state park system. The governor’s finance team said the deficit now was projected to grow to $24.3 billion through June 2010.

Stimulus Projects Bypass Hard-Hit States

States hit hardest by the recession received only a few of the government’s first stimulus contracts, even though the glut of new federal spending was meant to target places where the economic pain has been particularly severe. Nationwide, federal agencies have awarded nearly $4 billion in contracts to help jump-start the economy since President Obama signed the massive stimulus package in February. But, with few exceptions, that money has not reached states where the unemployment rate is highest, according to a USA TODAY review of contracts disclosed through the Federal Procurement Data System. In Michigan, for example — where years of economic tumult and a collapsing domestic auto industry have produced the nation’s worst unemployment rate — federal agencies have spent about $2 million on stimulus contracts, or 21 cents per person, far less than the nationwide average of nearly $13.

The first waves of that money flowed unevenly in large part because some federal agencies have moved more swiftly than others to sign contracts for projects funded by the stimulus. In many cases, those first contracts went to projects that began years ago or to companies that have long track records of doing government work. For example, about $3 billion of the government’s first contracts were to speed cleanup of some of the nation’s worst nuclear waste sites, scattered over a handful of states. Even so, the first contracts have amounted to only about $7.42 per person on average in the eight states with unemployment rates higher than 10% last month. By comparison, government records show it has awarded about $26 worth of contracts per person in North Dakota, whose unemployment rate is the nation’s lowest.

Economic News

President Obama said Wednesday that the stimulus had created or saved 150,000 jobs in its first 100 days. Overall, however, the economy shed more than 1.2 million jobs in March and April, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Consumer confidence soared to the highest level in eight months in May, trouncing analysts’ estimates, as Americans grew optimistic that the job market and business conditions will improve before year’s end. While the Conference Board’s consumer confidence index is still weak by historical standards, Americans think “the worst is now behind us,” says Lynn Franco, head of the board’s Consumer Research Center. The broad measure of consumer sentiment jumped to 54.9, up from 40.8 in April. By comparison, the consumer index was 90.6 in December 2007, when the recession began.

The tally of newly laid-off people seeking jobless benefits fell last week, a sign that companies are cutting fewer workers, and demand for big-ticket manufactured goods soared by the largest amount in 16 months in April, the second increase in the past three months. The Labor Department said Thursday that the number of initial claims for unemployment insurance dropped to a seasonally adjusted 623,000, from a revised figure of 636,000 in the previous week. That compares with claims of 300,000 or less before the recession began. The number of people continuing to receive unemployment benefits increased to 6.78 million, the largest total on records dating back to 1967 and the 17th straight record week.

Sales of previously occupied homes rose modestly from March to April as buyers swooped in to take advantage of prices that were 15.4% below year-ago levels. The National Association of Realtors said Wednesday that home sales rose 2.9% to an annual rate of 4.68 million last month. The median sales price plunged to $172,000, down from $201,300 in the same month last year. That was the second-largest drop on record after January, when prices fell 17.5%.

New home sales were almost flat last month, while industry reports show that a record 12% of homeowners with a mortgage are behind on their payments or in foreclosure, indicating that the housing market’s recovery will likely be a slow and gradual process.

Oil and gasoline prices hit a new high for the year Wednesday despite expectations that OPEC will not cut production again Benchmark crude for July delivery rose $1 to settle at $63.45 a barrel. Retail gasoline prices, which are up 19% in the past month, rose 0.9 cents overnight to $2.434 a gallon, according to auto club AAA. Prices are now 10 cents higher than a week ago and 38.4 cents a gallon higher than a month ago.

The government says U.S. banks turned a profit in the first quarter, but the number of troubled banks jumped to more than 300. The Federal Deposit Insurance says higher trading revenues at big banks helped the industry earn a $7.6 billion profit in the January-March period, compared with a record loss of $36.9 billion in the fourth quarter. The profit was 61% below the $19.3 billion earned in the year-ago period and followed the first quarterly loss in 18 years. U.S. banks and thrifts set aside $60.9 billion in the first quarter to cover potential loan losses, up from $36.2 billion a year earlier.

Federal tax revenue plunged $138 billion, or 34%, in April vs. a year ago — the biggest April drop since 1981 When the economy slumps, so does tax revenue. Big revenue losses mean that the U.S. budget deficit may be larger than predicted this year and in future years. The government may have a hard time trimming spending to reduce the deficit when the recession ends. The 77 million Baby Boomers— those born in 1946 through 1964 — will start tapping their federal retirement benefits soon, which means increased government outlays for Social Security and Medicare. The Boomers now are in their 50s and 60s and unlikely to keep increasing incomes for long, which means that revenue from income taxes could flatten in the next few years.

Banks have seized upon another way to squeeze profits out of struggling consumers: higher checking account fees. These fees can add up to hundreds of dollars before consumers know there’s a problem. At a time when the government has bailed out many of the largest banks, the moves are drawing the ire of economists who say they threaten to further undermine consumers’ financial stability. Banks are raising account fees because of a “mix of market power and opportunism,” says Simon Johnson, a former chief economist for the International Monetary Fund.

Charity Network Delivers Food to Recession’s Victims

The non-profit group Feed The Children (www.feedthechildren.org), has sent caravans of tractor trailers around the country delivering food and toiletries to those hurt by the harsh reality of tough times. The caravans have visited six cities including Laurinburg, N.C.; Elkhart, Ind.; Greenville, Miss.; New York City and Chicago since February. In each city, hundreds of people line up to receive the boxes. The group has given food and personal items like soap and toothpaste to more than 19,000 families. Each box of food, which weighs 25 pounds, contains enough basics for a family of four for five days.

Half of Men Arrested Test Positive for Drugs

Half of the men arrested in 10 U.S. cities test positive for some type of illegal drug, a federal study found. Not only do the findings show “a clear link between drugs and crime,” they also highlight the need to provide drug treatment. Assessing offenders for drug and mental health problems and providing treatment is “important if you want to stop recidivism and recycling people through the system,” says Gil Kerlikowske, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, who supports drug courts that offer court-ordered drug treatment. “There’s an opportunity when someone is arrested to divert them to treatment if they need it,” says Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance Network. Marijuana is the most common drug in every city where testing was done except Atlanta, where cocaine is most prevalent, the study found. Methamphetamine use is concentrated on the west coast where 35% of the men arrested in Sacramento and 15% of the men arrested in Portland tested positive for the drug. Heroin use is highest, at 29%, among men arrested in Chicago.

Arizona’s Smoking Rate Drops

The number of Arizonans who smoke is dropping sharply, and experts are attributing the decline to new laws that limit the use of tobacco and the higher cost of cigarettes. A new federal study shows that about 170,000 of the state’s adult residents kicked their smoking habit from 2007 to 2008; the number of active smokers in Arizona – those who smoke some days or every day – fell to 15.9 percent, down from 19.8 percent in 2007. That’s a nearly 20 percent decrease, and medical experts call it “unprecedented.” The share of people who smoke every day fell to 10.7 percent from 13.6 percent. Arizona’s decrease in active smokers means the state now ranks far below the national average of 18.3 percent.

Insured Pay ‘Hidden Tax’ for Uninsured Health Care

The average U.S. family and their employers paid an extra $1,017 in health care premiums last year to compensate for the uninsured, according to a study released Thursday by an advocacy group for health care consumers. Families USA, which supports expanded health care coverage, found that about 37% of health care costs for people without insurance — or a total of $42.7 billion — went unpaid last year. That cost eventually was shifted to the insured through higher premiums, according to the group. As President Obama and Congress take up health care legislation this year, the so-called hidden tax is increasingly becoming a talking point as proof that the U.S. health care system needs to be fixed. How this hidden tax will be eliminated will be a point of contention as the debate over health care intensifies.

Carbon Pollution to Grow by 40%

The amount of heat-trapping carbon dioxide seeping into the atmosphere will increase by nearly 40% worldwide by 2030 if ways are not found to require mandatory emission reductions, a U.S. government report said Wednesday. The Energy Information Administration said world energy consumption is expected to grow by 44% over the next two decades as the global economy recovers and continues to expand. The biggest increases in energy use will come from economically developing countries such as China and India. Substantial growth is expected in the use of renewable energy sources such as hydropower, wind and solar, the report said. But it also said overall growth in demand will require continued reliance on fossil fuels, especially oil and coal. As a result, the analysis predicted a steady increase in emissions of carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas that scientists say threatens a serious warming of the Earth later this century.

Israel

Israel defied a surprisingly blunt U.S. demand that it freeze all building in West Bank Jewish settlements, saying Thursday it will press ahead with construction. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Wednesday that President Obama wants Israel to halt to all settlement construction — including “natural growth.” She was referring to Israel’s insistence that new construction is necessary to accommodate the expansion of families already living in existing settlements. The new conflict with Washington came on the same day Obama was to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House. Abbas has said the Palestinian demand for freezing settlements will be at the top of his agenda in the talks. Obama’s administration has been more explicit in its criticism of Israeli settlement policy than its predecessor. The United Statesz and much of the world consider the settlements an obstacle to peace because they are built on land the Palestinians claim for a future state.

  • The Palestinians may claim it, but it belongs to Israel historically and Biblically.

Iraq

May is already the deadliest month for U.S. troops in Iraq since September. This month’s death toll reached 20 when the military reported a soldier was killed by a roadside bomb Wednesday. The spike in fatalities has coincided with a spurt of violence in Iraq in recent months. Militant groups such as al-Qaeda in Iraq have stepped up their campaign of suicide bombings and assassinations at a time when U.S. troops are preparing to withdraw from urban areas by June 30 per a deal with the Iraqi government. Gen. Ray Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, has said that he would be willing to stay longer in hot spots, such as Mosul, if asked by the Iraqi government. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has said that he expects all U.S. troops to withdraw as scheduled.

Afghanistan

U.S. coalition troops attacked a suspected foreign fighter camp in eastern Afghanistan on Thursday, killing at least 29 insurgents in an intense firefight, the military said, while a NATO soldier died after a roadside bomb attack in the south. At least six insurgents equipped with explosives blew themselves up during the clash in eastern Paktika province near the border with Pakistan. One coalition member was wounded in the assault, in which troops also called in airstrikes for support. Following the battle, forces discovered weapons caches containing rocket-propelled grenade launchers, AK-47 assault rifles, suicide vests and other armaments.

Pakistan

Mission News Network reports that Christians fleeing from Pakistan’s conflict with the Taliban may face steeper challenges than other groups. “The challenge for Christians is somewhat multiplied because they are already sort of disenfranchised: they’re already pushed to the side, and so they become sort of lost in the shuffle,” said Todd Nettleton with Voice of the Martyrs. “We have even heard reports that while the government is helping to relocate Muslim citizens out of these areas where the Taliban is taking over, they’re not giving that same assistance to Christians.” Pakistan’s Christians rank low in society and are often forced to work the most menial jobs because of discrimination and lack of education. Under the Taliban, Christians could face poll taxes and even harsher discrimination.

Gunmen detonated a car bomb near police and intelligence agency offices in eastern Pakistan on Wednesday, killing about 30 people and wounding at least 250 in one of the country’s deadliest attacks this year. Attackers with rifles stepped from the car and opened fire on the intelligence agency building in the city of Lahore, then set off a massive blast when security guards returned fire. Lahore, Pakistan’s second-largest city, sits near the Indian border and is considered a liberal, cultural capital. Assaults there have heightened fears that militancy in nuclear-armed Pakistan is spreading well beyond the northwest region bordering Afghanistan. Wednesday’s attack was the third major strike in Lahore in recent months. The Taliban in Pakistan claimed responsibility Thursday for a deadly bomb and gun attack on police and intelligence agency offices, saying it was revenge for the army’s current offensive against the militants in the country’s northwest.

North Korea

Amidst the cacophony of condemnation from all sides following North Korea’s second nuclear bomb test, there has been no mention whatsoever of how the secretive Stalinist state got its weapons in the first place – they were paid for by the U.S. government. Both the Clinton and Bush administrations played a key role in helping Kim Jong-Il develop North Korea’s nuclear prowess from the mid 1990’s onwards. In 1994, the Clinton administration agreed to replace North Korea’s domestically built nuclear reactors with light water nuclear reactors. So-called government-funded ‘experts’ claimed that light water reactors couldn’t be used to make bombs. Not so according to Henry Sokolski, head of the Non-proliferation Policy Education Centre in Washington, who stated, “LWRs could be used to produce dozens of bombs’ worth of weapons-grade plutonium in both North Korea and Iran. This is true of all LWRs — a depressing fact U.S. policymakers have managed to block out.” In April 2002, the Bush administration announced that it would release $95 million of American taxpayer’s dollars to begin construction of the ‘harmless’ light water reactors in North Korea. Bush argued that arming the megalomaniac dictator Kim Jong-Il with the potential to produce a hundred nukes a year was, “vital to the national security interests of the United States.” Bush released even more money in January 2003.

Two Dead, 14 Injured in Nepal Church Blast

Agence France-Presse reports that two people were killed and 14 were injured Saturday when a bomb detonated inside a Roman Catholic church. Police suspect a Hindu extremist group is behind the attack, which is the first of its kind around Kathmandu, the country’s capitol. About 500 people were in the church when an usher tried to remove a black plastic bag in a seat, setting off the bomb inside the bag. A 15-year-old girl died in the blast. “This is the saddest day in the history of Nepali Christians. Never before has there been such an attack on the church in Nepal,” said Tirtha Thapa, a Christian leader and founder-director of Nepal’s Human Development and Community Services which works in education and health.

Stabbing, Bombing Attacks Strike Two Churches in Egypt

Compass Direct News reports that a Coptic Christian suffered severe stab wounds as he left a worship service in Minya, Upper Egypt, and a car-bombing outside a venerable church in Cairo disrupted a wedding. Without provocation, three Muslims repeatedly stabbed Coptic Christian Girgis Yousry, 21, as the army conscript was leaving the gates of the church of Saint Mary. The assault left him with severe injuries to internal organs, and was still receiving treatment in a district hospital at press time. Three men were arrested on May 5 and have been given a 16-day initial incarceration while the investigation is underway. In Cairo, a makeshift bomb placed under a car exploded outside a renowned Coptic Orthodox church building in Zeitoun district on May 9, incinerating the vehicle but causing no injuries.

Radical Muslims Force Members from Church in Zanzibar

Compass Direct News reports that worship in a house church on a Tanzanian island did not take place for the third week running. Muslim extremists expelled worshippers from their rented property in Zanzibar City on May 9. Angered by a recent upsurge in Christian evangelism in the area, church members said, radical Muslims had sent several threats to the Christians warning them to stop their activities. The church had undertaken a two-day evangelism campaign culminating in an Easter celebration. On the morning of the attack, more than 20 church members had gathered for Saturday fellowship when word reached them that Muslim extremists were about to attack. As the radical group approached, the Christians fled in fear of their lives.

Earthquakes

A powerful earthquake collapsed more than two dozen homes in Honduras and Belize early Thursday, killing a teenager and injuring two more as terrified people ran into the streets in towns across much of Central America The magnitude-7.1 quake struck at 3:24 a.m. local time at the relatively shallow depth of 6 miles, according to the U.S. Geological Survey in Golden, Colo. Democracy Bridge, which spans the country’s largest river, the Ulua, collapsed in the town of El Progreso, Cordero said. The bridge connects the northern city of San Pedro Sula, Honduras’ second-largest, with the rest of the country.

May 26, 2009

Obama Nominates Sotomayor to Supreme Court

President Obama tapped U.S. Circuit Judge Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court on Tuesday, officials said, making her the first Hispanic in history picked to wear the robes of a justice. If confirmed by the Senate, Sotomayor, 54, would succeed retiring Justice David Souter. Administration officials say Sotomayor would bring more judicial experience to the Supreme Court than any justice confirmed in the past 70 years. Democrats hold a large majority in the Senate, and barring the unexpected, Sotomayor’s confirmation should be assured. If approved, she would join Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as the second woman on the current court.

  • It remains to be seen just how liberal this nominee is, but rest assured that she will carry the banner for more judicial activism

Catholic Church’s Nonprofit Status Challenged in Maine

A California-based homosexual-rights group has filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service challenging the tax-exempt status of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Maine. The Empowering Spirits Foundation says that by engaging in political activity aimed at overturning Maine’s new same-sex “marriage” law, the diocese is violating IRS rules for nonprofits. A diocese spokesman says IRS policy allows the diocese to participate in the campaign to collect the more than 55,000 voter signatures needed to suspend the law and have voters decide its fate. After Maine’s Legislature passed the bill legalizing same-sex marriage and the governor signed it earlier this month, Bishop Richard Malone called it “a dangerous sociological experiment” and said the diocese would work with others to bring the issue to a vote in November.

Campus Evangelists Clash with Police

A campus evangelism group is stunned today, as a ministry event at a community college in Ohio resulted in four members being arrested, one on a felony assault charge that the ministry’s leader claims is fabricated. “I’ve done ministries like this at more than 200 universities,” said Jason Storms, director of Faithful Soldier School of Evangelism, a ministry of Mercy Seat Christian Church in Milwaukee, Wis. “We train people to do evangelism, and I have never seen an incident like this.” Storms and a team of students earlier this week traveled to Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio, with signs, literature and a message of faith. When they arrived, however, a student complaint led campus police to confront the evangelism team and demand that their signs and literature be put away in accordance with college policy. When two of the evangelists refused the order, however, insisting their materials were protected by the freedom of speech guaranteed in the First Amendment, the officers arrested them on charges of disorderly conduct.

Later in the afternoon, however, two more arrests followed, one on a now-disputed felony charge of striking a police officer. Storms himself was detained by police, when after speaking freely with students on campus for a couple of hours, he approached Officer Michael Beane to inquire about the charges filed against the other two evangelists. Storms and Beane then got into an argument, resulting in the officer claiming he was being harassed and Storms being detained in a holding cell. The situation escalated, however, when Officer Beane demanded that a member of the evangelism team surrender a cell phone that had been taping the incident. Faithful Soldier student Katie Carroll refused to give up her phone and hid behind fellow evangelist team member Daniel Pollion. What happened next is highly disputed. Natasha Baker, director of public relations for the campus police force, told WorldNetDaily that Pollion struck Beane in the face.

Home: No place for Bible Study?

A  San Diego pastor and his wife claim they were interrogated by a county official and warned they will face escalating fines if they continue to hold Bible studies in their home. The couple, whose names are being withheld until a demand letter can be filed on their behalf, told their attorney a county government employee knocked on their door on Good Friday, asking a litany of questions about their Tuesday night Bible studies, which are attended by approximately 15 people. “Do you have a regular weekly meeting in your home? Do you sing? Do you say ‘amen’?” the official reportedly asked. “Do you say, ‘Praise the Lord’?” The pastor’s wife answered yes. She says she was then told, however, that she must stop holding “religious assemblies” until she and her husband obtain a Major Use Permit from the county, a permit that often involves traffic and environmental studies, compliance with parking and sidewalk regulations and costs that top tens of thousands of dollars. And if they fail to pay for the MUP, the county official reportedly warned, the couple will be charged escalating fines beginning at $100, then $200, $500, $1000, “and then it will get ugly.”

Ø      Hold fast, folks, it’s only going to get worse.

N.H. Governor and House in Gay Marriage Standoff

Baptist Press reports that the New Hampshire legislature is in a standoff with Gov. John Lynch over a bill that would legalize “gay marriage.” The House voted 188-186 May 20 to reject the Governor’s amendment to the bill, which includes language protecting religious groups. Colin Manning, a spokesman for Lynch, said the governor was firm in wanting religious protections if “gay marriage” is to be legalized in the state. Sam Taylor, pastor of Nashua Baptist Church, a Southern Baptist congregation, told Baptist Press the House action shows what’s really at stake in New Hampshire. “The fact that the New Hampshire House of Representatives refused to accept Gov. Lynch’s very reasonable amendment demonstrates the radical agenda of those who are trying to force this bill into law,” Taylor said.

Plot Renews Rears of Radical Islam in U.S. Prisons

The arrest last week of four Muslim ex-convicts in an alleged homegrown terror plot in the Bronx is renewing fears about the spread of Islamic extremism in the nation’s prisons. At least two of the four men suspected of plotting to bomb synagogues and shoot down military airplanes converted to Islam behind bars. But this foiled plot is not the first terror scheme implicating Muslim convicts. “Basically, the threat is real,” said Paul Rogers, past president of the American Correctional Chaplains Association. “Prisons have unstable people and people who are on the edge of a lot of different things. The radical elements of any religion can be emphasized.” Mitch Silber, a top New York Police Department intelligence analyst, said inmates converting to Islam are so common that he and his colleagues call it “Prislam.” Though many drop the faith once they are out, for some “the conversion sticks” and can fuel anger toward the United States.

Washington has First Assisted-Suicide Death

A 66-year-old woman with terminal cancer has become the first person to die under Washington state’s new assisted suicide law, an advocacy group said Friday. Linda Fleming, of Sequim, died Thursday night after taking drugs prescribed under the “Death with Dignity” law that took effect in March, said Compassion & Choices of Washington. A physician prescribed the medication, but under the law, patients must administer the drugs themselves. The new law was approved in November with nearly 60% of the vote. It is based on a 1997 Oregon measure, under which about 400 people have ended their lives.

Obama Signs Credit Card Reform Bill

In the most sweeping changes to the credit card industry in 40 years, President Obama signed into law Friday an act to restrict practices he says contributed to consumers’ financial problems during the recession. The new law — which includes restrictions on interest rate increases and credit offered to college students — deals a blow to the banking industry, which has lobbied aggressively against tighter regulation. At the same time, it provides less than a complete win for consumers because it doesn’t cap interest rates or fees. Issuers can generally raise rates on existing credit card debt only if consumers have paid their bill more than 60 days late. Banks can’t extend credit cards to people under 21 without verifying their ability to pay or getting their parents’ permission. The law’s impact will be felt by most households in America. About 90 million households carry credit cards, with an average debt load of more than $10,500, according to CardTrak.com.

Loaded Guns to be Allowed in National Parks

A new law allowing loaded guns in national parks and wildlife refuges will not take effect until next year, the Obama administration said Friday. President Obama signed the gun law without comment Friday as part of a measure creating new rules for the credit card industry. A spokeswoman for the Interior Department said that because the credit card law won’t take effect until nine months after it is signed, the gun measure also will be delayed. Until then, rules adopted under the Reagan administration will remain in place. The rules severely restrict guns in the national parks, generally requiring that guns be locked or stored in a glove compartment or trunk.

Swine N1H1 Flu

Federal health officials said Friday that they will set aside $1 billion to jump-start commercial development of a vaccine against the new H1N1 flu virus now spreading worldwide. The funding will be used to produce bulk supplies of two key components of a vaccine and to test them in humans. The most critical of the two is the vaccine’s active ingredient, a protein from the new flu virus designed to trigger an immune response. The second is a booster, called an adjuvant, that might be added to the vaccine to ramp up its potency if it doesn’t appear to work in early human trials.

The World Health Organization’s global tally now stands at 12,022 cases and 86 deaths in 42 countries. More than half of those cases have been reported in the United States, while most of the deaths occurred in Mexico, where the virus was first detected last month.

All 18 U.S. soldiers infected with swine flu have recovered and left this oil-rich ally of Washington, a Kuwaiti health official said Sunday. “They were treated and they have fully recovered,” said Youssef Mandakar, deputy head of Kuwait’s public health department. He said the soldiers showed “mild symptoms” of the disease upon their arrival at an air force base. Mandakar said the troops didn’t have any contacts with the local population and they were treated at U.S. military facilities. Kuwait is screening passengers arriving at its international airport.

Ruling: Tobacco Companies Lied

A federal appeals court on Friday largely endorsed a landmark ruling that found cigarette makers deceived the public for decades about the health hazards of smoking. The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington upheld the major elements of a 2006 ruling that found the nation’s top tobacco companies guilty of fraud and violating racketeering laws. The ruling said manufacturers must change the way they market cigarettes. It bans labels such as “low tar,” “light,” “ultra light” or “mild,” because such cigarettes have been found to be no safer than others because of how people smoke them. It also said the companies must publish “corrective statements” on the adverse health effects and addictiveness of smoking and nicotine. The changes have not taken affect while the case has been under appeal.

GM Borrows Additional $4 Billion

General Motors Corp. said Friday that it has borrowed an additional $4 billion from the Treasury Department, meaning the automaker has now accepted $19.4 billion in loans from the U.S. government. GM started taking government money in December and said it intended to borrow $2.6 billion more by June 1 and an additional $9 billion after that. But in a regulatory filing Friday, GM said it needed $1.4 billion sooner than originally forecast. GM said it now expects to need $7.6 billion in loans after June 1. GM has until then to complete restructuring plans that satisfy the government’s auto task force, or else it will be forced to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The automaker has been scrambling to cut labor costs, reduce its debt, shed dealerships and brands, and close excess factories.

The United Auto Workers union has reached a tentative deal with the government and General Motors that offers to cut labor costs and fund a union-run trust that will take over retiree health care costs next year. The move is a key step toward GM’s efforts to restructure outside of bankruptcy. Union members still have to vote on the deal. GM has about 61,000 hourly workers in the U.S., but plans to take that number down to 40,000 by 2010.

Automakers will sell just 10 million new cars and trucks in the U.S. this year, the worst in at least three decades, respected forecaster J.D. Power and Associates For the staggering auto industry, “Recovery will not be a quick proposition,” said Gary Dilts, senior vice president of Power’s automotive operations. Even normally healthy automakers such as Toyota and Nissan are losing money. The industry and its analysts had been hoping for signs of a rebound, but now don’t foresee any this month.

Gasoline Prices Swing Higher

Retail gasoline prices continued to climb Friday ahead of the Memorial Day weekend and the unofficial start of America’s summer driving season. The national average pump price increased nearly 3 cents overnight to $2.391 a gallon, according to auto club AAA. Gasoline prices have ticked higher every day this month. Refiners have been turning less oil into gas with millions of people driving less in the recession. Gas is 32.9 cents a gallon more expensive than last month, but it’s still $1.44 a gallon less expensive than a year ago.

States Cut Down on Driver’s License Fraud

States across the USA are taking unprecedented steps to cut down on driver’s license fraud, making forgeries and alterations harder than ever. Almost every state has produced or plans to produce new licenses with hard-to-replicate features such as holograms, multiple photographs, images that can be seen only under ultraviolet light or “microprinting” that can be read only with a magnifying glass. In Virginia, so many motor vehicles clerks have been caught selling fraudulent driver’s licenses that the state is now removing manufacturing operations from its 74 regional offices. The new features are a technological leap from old-style licenses printed on layers of plastic laminate that can be peeled off so easily that college students could insert a new photograph, name or birth date, says Nebraska DMV Director Beverly Neth.

Economic News

Home prices fell at the sharpest rate ever in the first quarter compared to 2008, but the pace of month-to-month declines continues to slow, a closely watched housing index showed Tuesday. The Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller National Home Price index reported home prices were down 19.1% in the first quarter, the most in its 21-year history. Home prices have fallen 32.2% since peaking in the second quarter of 2006. “We see no evidence that a recovery in home prices has begun,” said, David Blitzer, chairman of the S&P index committee.

The Wall Street Journal reports that malls, those ubiquitous shopping meccas that sprang up in the 1950s, are dwindling in number, with many struggling properties reduced to largely vacant shells. Some analysts estimate that the number of so-called “dead malls” — centers debilitated by anemic sales and high vacancy rates — will swell to more than 100 by the end of this year. In the 12 months ended March 31, U.S. malls collectively posted a 6.5% decline in tenants’ same-store sales. The industry’s woes are worsening. Thinning customer traffic, and subsequent hits to tenants’ sales and profits, prompted Standard & Poor’s Corp. last month to lower the credit ratings of the department-store sector. Sears Holdings Corp., a cornerstone tenant at many malls, is expected to close 23 stores this month and next.

In places where budget cuts have shuttered public pools, closed parks and canceled July Fourth fireworks, residents and businesses are giving time and money to save summer activities. In tough budget times, public services that enhance quality of life often are cut first as local leaders try to protect police, fire and public works services, says Chris Hoene, director of research for the National League of Cities. Fundraising drives for public pools are taking place in communities such as Philadelphia and St. Cloud, Minn., where city officials decided four of seven wading pools won’t open this summer because of budget cuts. In Payson, Ariz., businesses and the city have pledged to pay up to $5,000 to reopen nearby Tonto Natural Bridge State Park on weekends. Residents will volunteer at the park to reduce the need for paid staff, Mayor Kenny Evans says.

Some $4 billion from President Obama’s $787 billion economic stimulus plan that was budgeted to renovate public housing will be spent to create so-called “green jobs” by making the dwellings more energy efficient. $500 million from the stimulus is becoming available to train workers for these jobs. These jobs, broadly defined as related to helping the environment, pay up to 20% more than other jobs, are more likely to be union jobs and also are ones that cannot be easily transferred overseas.

Pakistan

Worshippers still flock to the grave of Rahman Baba, a Muslim mystic revered by millions in Pakistan and Afghanistan. But they now pray at a mound of rubble and twisted steel — all that remains of his tomb since militants bombed it. The blast in March was the most high-profile in a recent spate of attacks against Pakistan’s homespun, tolerant brand of Islam by hard-liners trying to replace it with the more austere version espoused by the Taliban, al-Qaeda and other Sunni extremist groups. The attack was a sign of the extreme intolerance of the militants and the threat posed by the insurgency to the religious and cultural heart of Pakistan, a nation of 170 million people that the U.S. sees as critical in the global fight against Islamic extremism.

Ø      Islamic extremists aren’t a religious order but rather a militant band of hooligans and terrorists

N. Korea Nuke Test

North Korea said that it had carried out a powerful underground nuclear test — much larger than one conducted in 2006. The regime also test-fired three short-range, ground-to-air missiles later Monday from the same northeastern site where it launched a rocket last month. The rocket liftoff, widely believed to be a cover for a test of its long-range missile technology, drew censure from the U.N. Security Council. President Obama said Monday that North Korea’s latest nuclear test should be “a matter of grave concern to all nations” and accused Pyongyang of behaving recklessly and defying international will. Reining in Pyongyang’s nuclear program has been a continuing problem for U.S. administrations, dating to the Clinton administration.

North Korea launched tests Tuesday of two more short-range missiles a day after detonating a nuclear bomb underground, pushing the regime’s confrontation with world powers further despite the threat of U.N. Security Council action. Two missiles — one ground-to-air, the other ground-to-ship — with a range of about 80 miles were test-fired from an east coast launch pad, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported.

Thailand

A vicious Muslim insurgency in Thailand’s deep south has spared few. On the roll call of 3,400 dead are monks and teachers, shopkeepers and rubber tappers, officials and innocents from every background. Islamic radicals are fighting for a separate state in Buddhist-majority Thailand. And a rift is widening between Buddhists and Muslims — communities that had lived harmoniously for generations and now share equally in the suffering. The separatist movement, which periodically erupts into violence, was born after 1902 when Thailand took over an independent sultanate in a region where some 70% of the 1.8 million people adhere to Islam. But past insurgency leaders restricted their attacks to Thai authorities. Violence seldom affected the ordinary people and thus did not embroil them in mutual suspicion and fear. This changed dramatically in the wake of hardline government policies in the south coupled with the influence of international jihad.

Austrian Temple Fight

Sikhs wielding knives and a handgun attacked two preachers at a rival temple in Vienna on Sunday in a brawl that left at least 16 people wounded. A related clash later broke out in northern India. The temple is situated in Vienna-Rudolfsheim, the capital’s 15th district near Westbahnhof, one of Vienna’s main train stations. While there are disagreements between the Deras and Sikh religious authorities, violent clashes are rare. Sikhs make up less than 2% of India’s 1.1 billion people, the vast majority of whom are Hindus. A Sikh is defined as “any human being who faithfully believes in One Immortal Being; the utterances and teachings of the ten Gurus and the baptism bequeathed by the tenth Guru.

Earthquakes

A strong earthquake swayed skyscrapers in Mexico City and rattled colonial buildings in neighboring Puebla state Friday, sending frightened people into the streets. There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage. The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake had a magnitude of 5.7 and was centered 90 miles southeast of the capital. Puebla state civil protection chief German Garcia said there were no reports of injuries or collapsed buildings near the epicenter.

A moderate earthquake has jolted an inland desert area in Central California. There were no reports of any damage or injuries. The U.S. Geological survey says the 4.7-magnitude quake struck just before 4 p.m. on Saturday.

In Alaska, a minor earthquake struck near Fairbanks, jolting residents. The Alaska Earthquake Information Center says the 3.6 magnitude quake occurred at 5:30 a.m. Saturday, about 10 miles southwest of Fairbanks.

Weather

Parts of the Daytona Beach International Speedway were under water Friday as rains drenched northeast Florida for a fifth straight day, but no significant damage to the motorway was reported. Preliminary estimates put flood damage at $52 million in Volusia County, the worst-hit county, where some 976 buildings have reportedly suffered some kind of damage. Parts of Volusia County were under a flash flood warning as another four inches of rain was expected Friday after at least 16 inches of rain earlier in the week. “I’ve never seen this much rain,” said Dan Roll, executive director of Florida Coast to Coast chapter of the American Red Cross. “It’s really hard to describe how much water there is.” Gov. Charlie Crist on Friday proclaimed a state of emergency for Brevard, Clay, Duval, Flagler, Lake, Nassau, Orange, Putnam, Seminole, St. Johns and Volusia counties. “Nobody saw this coming since it was a no-name storm,” said Tim Harbuck, city manager for Holly Hills, which had 50 buildings flooded.

Thousands of people were evacuated from their homes Friday in the Sydney area, as torrential rains and strong winds pounded Australia’s east coast, causing severe flooding and forcing the closure of hundreds of schools. The severe weather has battered the region for the past few days. One man was killed in Queensland state’s Surfers Paradise on Wednesday when a sheet of metal that winds had torn off a nearby building crashed through his office window.

Cyclone Aila lashed low-lying areas in eastern India and Bangladesh, destroying thousands of homes, stranding tens of thousands of people in flooded villages and killing at least 115 before it began to ease Tuesday. Aila tore down nearly 3,000 thatched and mud houses and uprooted a large number of trees in nearly 300 villages across India’s West Bengal state. Storm surges hit coastal areas in neighboring Bangladesh, killing at least 81 people.

  • End-time weather will continue to grow more erratic and powerful

May 22, 2009

Faith, Medicine at Odds in Chemo Refusal

The case of a missing Minnesota mother and her cancer-stricken son has rekindled the debate over parents who reject conventional medical treatments for their sick children because of religious beliefs. Authorities nationwide searched Wednesday for Colleen Hauser and her 13-year-old son, Daniel, who has Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The family refuses chemotherapy for Daniel. The two disappeared from rural Sleepy Eye, Minn., after a doctor’s appointment and court-ordered X-ray Monday showed his cancer had grown. They did not show up for a court hearing Tuesday. Brown County District Judge John Rodenberg ruled the mother in contempt of court and issued a warrant for her arrest. He ordered that Daniel be turned over to Brown County Family Services and gave the agency the authority to consent to “appropriate and necessary” treatment. The Hausers are Catholic, but also believe in the natural healing philosophy of the Nemenhah Band, a Missouri-based religious group that believes in methods advocated by some American Indians. Colleen Hauser testified in court that she believed chemotherapy is a form of poison and that she had been trying to “starve” Daniel’s cancer with supplements, an organic and sugar-free diet and high-alkaline water.

  • When does faith become abuse? Where do we draw the line on individual and parental rights? These will always be difficult questions because God is the ultimate Judge. Until Jesus returns to be King and Judge over the earth, our secular justice system will grow more an more intrusive.

Christian Abusers

A fiercely debated, long-delayed investigation into Ireland’s Roman Catholic-run institutions says priests and nuns terrorized thousands of boys and girls in workhouse-style schools for decades — and government inspectors failed to stop the chronic beatings, rapes and humiliation. Nine years in the making, Wednesday’s 2,600-page report sides almost completely with the horrific reports of abuse from former students sent to more than 250 church-run, mostly residential institutions. It concluded that church officials always shielded their orders’ pedophiles from arrest to protect their own reputations and, according to documents uncovered in the Vatican, knew that many pedophiles were serial attackers.

According to a United Nations report issued this year, a growing number of children in the Democratic Republic of Congo are being accused of witchcraft and subjected to violent exorcisms by religious leaders, in which they are often beaten, burned, starved and even murdered. The relatively new phenomenon has become one of the main causes in Central Africa for humanitarian groups, which are organizing programs to protect children’s rights and educate pastors on the dangers of accusing children.

  • The devil loves to wreak havoc inside the Church. What is done in the name of Christ is more effective in bringing Christianity down than what the devil does out in the world. Is it any wonder that the world is growing more secular?

Christian Group Urges Nationwide Prayer on July 5

Religion News Service reports that the Family Research Council is spearheading a call for churches to pray for the nation on the day after Independence Day. The conservative Christian group, best known for its efforts to shape public policy, hopes the “Call 2 Fall” initiative will reach thousands of churches. “I think increasingly there’s an awareness that there is a problem in America that is not political at its heart but rather it’s a spiritual problem,” said FRC President Tony Perkins on Tuesday (May 19). Pastor Larry Stockstill of Bethany World Prayer Center in Baton Rouge, La., said the movement goes beyond political issues or figures. “We know the problem lies in us and not in anyone else’s issues or policies or persuasion,” he said. “We are therefore bringing ourselves to God and asking for his mercy upon us.”

Campaign Begins to Rebuild Communities in Orissa

Mission News Network reports that ministries in Orissa, India, hope to rebuild most of their community this summer and fall. The National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) and Gospel for Asia will partner in an effort to raise money for rebuilding projects, noting that $40,000 is enough to rebuild an entire community, including its church. “Some of the people are still homeless from what took place back in the summer and early fall,” NRB’s Ron Harris said. “They need their homes, and they need their churches. Some are still living in tents and out in the woods, and we need Christians to come alongside.” Radio and television stations will be invited to support the rebuilding campaign. Thousands of people were displaced in anti-Christian violence last August, when Hindu extremists blamed Christians for the murder of their leader.

Ida an Extinct Primate, That’s All

The president of Answers in Genesis says an alleged new “missing link” found by scientists is nothing more than an extinct primate. On Tuesday, scientists in New York unveiled what they described as the missing link in human evolution, a fossilized skeleton reportedly 47 million years old. They said the creature — nicknamed “Ida” — had four legs and a long tail, was about the size of a small cat, and had human-like nails instead of claws, along with a bone in her foot that is similar to humans. According to Associated Press, scientists said while the creature is not a direct ancestor of monkeys and humans, it provides a good indication of what that ancestor may have looked like. Ken Ham, president of the apologetics ministry Answers in Genesis, finds it ironic that the same scientists, in a research paper detailing their findings, toned down their pronouncements after pressure from colleagues in the scientific community. Ham says the fossil is similar to a modern lemur, and in no way resembles a human skeleton.

Pepsico a Member of the NGL Chamber of Commerce

PepsiCo is a member of the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC). The NGLCC is an organization that promotes the homosexual agenda including homosexual marriage. Other companies — including Ford, McDonald’s and Wal-Mart — withdrew their membership from NGLCC after being asked to do so by American Family Association. PepsiCo financially supports “gay pride parades” in cities across America. PepsiCo uses its TV commercials to promote the homosexual lifestyle. Call PepsiCo’s Board of Directors Concern Line at 1-866-626-0633 and tell the board of directors that you are boycotting PepsiCo and asking others to do the same. Sign the Boycott Pepsi Pledge.

Obama Steadfast to Close Gitmo

President Obama, maintaining that he intends to close the Guantanamo Bay prison facility by January, announced five categories of prisoners that will be used to determine what to do with the 240 men still being held there. In a scathing attack on the Bush administration, President Obama stood steadfast Thursday in his pledge to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and transfer some terror suspects to federal “supermax” prisons in the United States. Accusing the Bush administration of creating “a misguided experiment” that created more threats to America, Obama told an audience at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., that the Guantanamo facility will be shuttered by his deadline of January 2010. He also tried to assure that no prisoners who pose a danger to the U.S. will be set free. On Wednesday, the Senate rebuked Obama’s request for funding to close the Guantanamo prison, withholding on a 90-6 vote $80 million that would go to shutting down the facility until the president presents a plan for what to do with the remaining detainees. That followed a similar move last week in the House, underscoring widespread apprehension among Obama’s Democratic allies in Congress over the issue.

U.S. Carbon Dioxide Emissions Drop

There is a positive note to the country’s economic woes and last summer’s $4-per-gallon gasoline: The nation in 2008 had a record decline in the amount of climate-changing carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere. The government reported Wednesday that energy-related carbon dioxide emissions declined by 2.8% last year compared to 2007, the largest annual drop since the government began regular reporting of greenhouse gas pollution. The department’s Energy Information Administration attributed the decline to a 2.2% drop in energy consumption, largely because of high gasoline and diesel prices last summer and the sharp economic decline in the last half of the year. The American Clean Energy and Security Act, which is before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, calls for cutting greenhouse emissions by 17% over the next 11 years and by 83% by midcentury.

Credit Card Protections Come With Holes

President Obama is expected to sign legislation this week to clamp down on credit card practices, a welcome move at a time when more consumers are losing their jobs and struggling to pay their bills. The law, which the House of Representatives passed and sent to Obama on Wednesday, will impose far-reaching restrictions on everything from interest rate increases — which have become common even though interest rates in general have fallen — to when and how issuers impose over-limit and late fees. But experts say it doesn’t go far enough in tackling some of the practices that have mired consumers in a never-ending cycle of debt. They expect issuers to roll out new fees and practices in upcoming years to replace those banned. Issuers say they may have to raise the upfront cost of credit cards and pare back rewards programs amid the new restrictions.

Army Blasted for Letting Drug Abusers Slide

Army commanders are failing to punish or seek treatment for a growing number of soldiers who test positive for substance abuse, possibly because they don’t want to lose any more combat troops, the Army’s vice chief of staff has warned. In a May 8 memo to commanders provided to USA TODAY, Gen. Peter Chiarelli said hundreds of soldiers involved in “substance abuse-related misconduct (including multiple positive urinalyses)” were not processed for possible discharge. He also noted that many are not referred to the Army Substance Abuse Program for help. What “worries me the most is that commanders feel a requirement to keep their numbers up” for combat deployments, Chiarelli said. He says identifying and treating substance abuse will help improve the Army’s mental health care and curb suicides, which reached a record 142 confirmed or suspected cases in 2008. He found many cases where soldiers tested positive for substance more than once.

Space Station Recycling Urine into Water

Astronauts aboard the space station celebrated a space first on Wednesday by drinking water that had been recycled from their urine, sweat and water that condenses from exhaled air. They said “cheers,” clicked drinking bags and toasted NASA workers on the ground who were sipping their own version of recycled drinking water. “The taste is great,” American astronaut Michael Barratt said. He said the water came with labels that said: “drink this when real water is over 200 miles away.” The urine recycling system is needed for astronaut outposts on the moon and Mars. It also will save NASA money because it won’t have to ship up as much water to the station by space shuttle or cargo rockets. It’s also crucial as the space station is about to expand from three people living on board to six. NASA deputy space shuttle manager LeRoy Cain called it “a huge milestone.”

  • The moral of this story is to always stay within 200 miles of real water.

Swine H1N1 Flu

Older people who may have been exposed to the flu before 1957 appear to have some protection against the new H1N1 virus spreading worldwide, unlike younger people, a federal official said Wednesday. Blood tests indicate that those people have antibodies capable of attacking the new virus, a finding consistent with evidence that the epidemic is hitting young adults hardest. The flu continues to spread across the USA; more than 5,700 cases have been reported in 47 states and Washington, D.C. The death toll reached nine Wednesday. So far, 247 people in the USA have been hospitalized.

Global warming May be Twice as Bad

Global warming will be twice as severe as previous estimates indicate, according to a new study published this month in the Journal of Climate, a publication of the American Meteorological Society. The research, conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), predicts a 90% probability that worldwide surface temperatures will rise more than 9 degrees (F) by 2100, compared to a previous 2003 MIT study that forecast a rise of just over 4 degrees. Improved economic modeling and newer economic data (which gives a lower chance of reduced emissions) are among the major changes from the 2003 model application.

  • As we’ve opined before, global warming is real, but not human-caused. It is instead a natural, end-time cycle of nature that is partially affected by humans.

First Offshore Wind Farm Wins Mass. Approval

A $1 billion proposal to build the first big U.S. offshore wind-power farm passed a key hurdle Thursday by winning permit requirements in Massachusetts, where it faces opposition from some influential residents. Cape Wind Associates, a privately funded Boston-based energy company, has proposed constructing 130 wind turbines over 24 square miles in Nantucket Sound, within view of the wealthy Cape Cod resort region of Massachusetts. The project, designed to power about 400,000 homes, won unanimous approval by the Massachusetts Energy Facilities Siting Board in a 7-0 vote for a “composite certificate” that combines nine state and local permits needed for the project. Cape Wind President Jim Gordon said Thursday’s vote caps a seven-year state regulatory process.

Second APS Solar Plant

Arizona Public Service Co. is teaming with a defense company and private-equity firm to build another solar-power plant west of Phoenix that could help it surpass state-imposed alternative-energy requirements. The $1.5 billion plant, to be built and run by Lockheed Martin Corp., should be operating by 2013 and, in combination with other projects, would give APS double the 4.5 percent of electricity from renewable sources required by 2014. With Congress moving on laws to limit greenhouse-gas pollution, APS officials said solar plants are a better option than coal, natural-gas or nuclear plants to supply the state’s growing power demands, regardless of the state requirements.

Economic News

A private research’s group forecast of economic activity rose more than expected in April, the first gain since June 2008, suggesting a pickup in growth awaits the economy in the second half of 2009. The Conference Board said Thursday its index of leading economic indicators, designed to forecast economic activity in the next three to six months, rose 1% last month.

The number of workers filing new claims for jobless aid fell 12,000 last week, while so-called continued claims rose to another record as the recession battered employment. Initial claims for state unemployment insurance benefits declined to a seasonally adjusted 631,000 in the week ended May 16 from a revised 643,000 the prior week, the Labor Department said. New claims have declined in three of the last four weeks. The most severe U.S. recession in decades has already cost over 5 million jobs since it began in late 2007, and despite some recent indications that employment conditions might be stabilizing, the labor market remains in dire shape.

U.S. bank regulators Thursday closed troubled lender BankUnited Financial, Florida’s largest bank, and sold its banking operations to a private equity consortium that includes WL Ross & Co. BankUnited, which had $12.8 billion in assets and $8.6 billion in retail deposits, is the biggest of 34 U.S. banks to fail so far this year. The 34 bank seizures so far compare to 25 in 2008 and just 3 in 2007.

Phoenix drivers are paying 31 cents more per gallon of gas today compared with a month ago, according to AAA Arizona. A silver lining remains, though. The state still boasts the cheapest average in the country, and the price is the lowest heading into Memorial Day since 2004. The Phoenix average rose to $2.14 per gallon of regular, compared with a nationwide average of $2.36 and California’s $2.60 average.

The agency that backs the pensions of 44 million American workers and retirees says its deficit is soaring, and may only get worse. The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. said looming bankruptcies in the auto industry, retail sector, finance and health care industries could make the historic $33.5 billion deficit it posted Wednesday balloon even higher. The agency blamed soaring bankruptcies and low interest rates for the shortfall, which was $22.5 billion more than the deficit it posted in October. The PBGC is a federal agency that acts as a backstop for pensions at 29,000 companies. As its deficit swells, the government will have to decide if it will cut retiree benefits, ask healthy companies to pay more to insure pensions, or rely on taxpayers to make up the deficit.

  • Care to guess which option is chosen? I’ll take door number three.

Israel

Israeli security forces demolished a minor Jewish settlement outpost in the West Bank on Thursday, three days after President Barack Obama told visiting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he must halt settlement activity. Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said troops and police evicted settlers who had been staying in seven metal huts, and removed the structures. He said there was no violent resistance and no arrests were made. Israeli peace groups say there are at least 100 wildcat outposts in the West Bank, in addition to 121 settlements authorized by the government. For years, Israel has pledged to remove illegally built outposts, but taken little action against them. The U.S. has long criticized settlements as obstacles to peace since they are built on captured land that the Palestinians claim for a future state.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted Thursday that all of Jerusalem will always remain under Israeli sovereignty, despite Palestinian demands for control over part of the city. “United Jerusalem is Israel’s capital,” said Netanyahu. “Jerusalem was always ours and will always be ours. It will never again be partitioned and divided.” Disputes over Jerusalem have torpedoed several attempts at peacemaking between Israel and the Palestinians. The main issue is control over a holy site, where the Al Aqsa Mosque compound sits atop the ruins of the biblical Jewish Temples. Also, Israel has built large Jewish neighborhoods around east Jerusalem.

  • One of the big problems with creating a Palestinian State is that they insist on having East Jerusalem as its capital. A divided Jerusalem would break God’s heart.

A messianic Jewish leader says the “Religious Left” in America simply fails to understand the futility of continuing to pursue a “two-state solution” to the Palestinian problem. Jan Markell, founder and director of Olive Tree Ministries in Minnesota, says the Religious Left continues to live in a state of delusion concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “Do we see the Palestinian community having changed any policies toward Israel? Have both Hamas and Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah taken out of their charters that the State of Israel needs to be annihilated?” she asks. “They wouldn’t take any of those things out of their charters — and yet the Religious Left perpetually just looks the other way and says ‘Israel, you’ve got to try harder.'” According to Markell, the Religious Left cannot stand the State of Israel. Markell says sadly the vast majority of the world goes along with the Religious Left’s belief in a two-state solution.

  • It is Satan who wants Israel destroyed and who is corrupting the so-called Religious Left, not just about Israel but also with “tolerance,” gay rights, and pro-choice attitudes.

Iraq

Suicide bombers struck Thursday in Baghdad and a northern city, killing at least 19 people and wounding dozens more in a burst of violence only weeks before U.S. combat troops are due to leave Iraqi cities. The attacks come a day after a car bomb exploded near a group of restaurants in a Shiite neighborhood of northwest Baghdad, killing 41 people and injuring more than 70. Attacks in civilian areas appear to be carried out by extremists seeking to rekindle sectarian warfare.

Afghanistan

Corruption in the Afghan political and legal systems is “pervasive” and “entrenched,” a report prepared for the main U.S. aid agency says, posing a challenge to the Obama administration’s plans to steer more assistance through the U.S.-backed Afghan government. “Seven years after the fall of the Taliban government, corruption has become more than the standard-issue bribery, nepotism, and extortion,” says the little-noticed report, prepared in March by consultants to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). It’s become systemic, and “the officials and agencies that are supposed to be part of the solution … are instead a critical part of the corruption syndrome.”

Pakistan

The United Nations is appealing for $543 million to ease what it describes as the “incredible suffering” of refugees from Pakistan’s war against Taliban militants. Martin Mogwanja, a U.N. official coordinating the humanitarian effort, said the size and speed of the displacement was extraordinary and had caused great suffering. Pakistani officials say they have registered about 1.9 million people fleeing the fighting in the Swat Valley area since security forces launched an offensive last month.

Members of Congress have been told in confidential briefings that Pakistan is rapidly adding to its nuclear arsenal even while racked by insurgency, raising questions on Capitol Hill about whether billions of dollars in proposed military aid might be diverted to Pakistan’s nuclear program. Inside the Obama administration, some officials say, Pakistan’s drive to spend heavily on new nuclear arms has been a source of growing concern, because the country is producing more nuclear material at a time when Washington is increasingly focused on trying to assure the security of an arsenal of 80 to 100 weapons so that they will never fall into the hands of Islamic insurgents.

Armed residents confronted a group of Taliban fighters and foiled their attempt to sneak into a town in Pakistan’s Swat Valley, the focus of a major military offensive against the insurgency, an official said Thursday. The attempted infiltration in Kalam indicated militants are feeling pinched by the army and are seeking new shelter, while the local resistance suggested growing public confidence in an anti-Taliban operation supported by the United States. Deputy Mayor Shamshad Haqqai told The Associated Press that about 50 Taliban fighters tried to enter Kalam, but that residents gathered quickly Wednesday to fight them off. They captured eight militants.

Brazil

Brazil’s government says it is releasing $435 million to aid the victims of floods that have displaced nearly 380,000 people and killed 44 in the country’s north and northeast. The rains have weakened in recent days, but water levels continued to rise in some areas.

Sri Lanka War Ends; Desperate Aid Needed

The Christian Post reports that Sri Lanka’s civil war is over, but the humanitarian challenges remain stark. The country’s 25-year war between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the official government leaves more than 250,000 dependent on aid in refugee camps. “The conventional war may be over but the real challenge now is to foster an environment where fractured and displaced Tamil communities can heal and have a real chance at creating a future for themselves and their children,” said aid agency director Suresh Bartlett, of World Vision in Sri Lanka. The United Nations estimates 7,000 civilians were killed and 16,700 wounded in the fighting over the last five months, as the LTTE used civilians as human shields and prevented them from leaving the war zone.

May 20, 2009

Abstinence Education ‘Outperforms’ Sex Ed

According to a research analyst, comprehensive sex education does not outperform abstinence education. Irene Ericksen of the Institute for Research and Evaluation says that media reports continually claim that abstinence education is a failure and that comprehensive sex ed is the only way to reduce teen pregnancies and promote safe-sex practices. She adds that they continually site a federal study that is riddled with myths. “These same people aren’t aware that there are 16 studies of comprehensive sex education programs in the schools,” Ericksen points out. “Actually 64 percent of the studies that have been done of comprehensive sex ed in the schools have found that they have not been effective.”

Stem Cell Research May Decline

Human embryonic stem cell research rules unveiled by the Obama Administration may prevent federal funding of more cells than the old rules, suggests one report. In April, the National Institutes of Health unveiled draft rules allowing federal funding of stem cell research on tissues derived from fertility clinic embryos freely donated for research with extensive “informed consent” notification of the donors. “Few existing cell lines would meet,” those informed consent rules, says attorney Patrick Taylor of Harvard Medical School, in the current Cell Stem Cell journal, including many cell lines, or families, among those previously approved for funding by the Bush administration. “As currently outlined, it’s as if the last 8 years of cell line creation and ethical self-regulation have just vanished.”

  • The law of unintended consequences strikes again. Or, maybe God and prayer had something to do with it?

DOMA, Prop. 8 Under Legal Attack in Calif.

Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) has been granted permission to intervene in a federal marriage case in California. A same-gender pair has filed suit in federal court challenging the federal Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8, the California constitutional amendment protecting traditional marriage, alleging that passage of both violates the U.S. Constitution. The two men are asking the court to issue a broad injunction “mandating the use of gender-neutral terms in all legislation affecting marriage.” ADF has intervened on behalf of the group ProtectMarriage.com. Attorney Jim Campbell says the importance of the case is enormous. “If the court finds that federal DOMA, for instance, violates the federal Constitution, then it will strike down federal DOMA and federal law will no longer define marriage as the union of one man and one woman,” he explains. “If they strike down Proposition 8, then — under the federal Constitution — …all of the work and the voice of [more than seven million] California citizens in defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman will be nullified.”

Protestant Clergy Support Gay Rights, Not Marriage

Most mainline Protestant clergy do not support legalizing gay marriage, even if they’re not required to officiate at same-sex ceremonies. It was the only point on which the majority did not support gay rights, according to a survey of clergy from the seven historic mainline Protestant denominations to which 18% of Americans belong. The Clergy Voices Survey, conducted by Public Religion Research, is based on 2,658 responses. It finds overall support for hate crimes legislation (67%), for workplace protections for gay and lesbian people (66%), and for adoption rights (55%). Only 33% say gay couples should be allowed to marry, 32% would allow civil unions, and 35% call for “no legal recognition” for same-sex couples. Jones said clergy were asked to estimate how their views on gay and lesbian issues had changed in 10 years: 45% called themselves more liberal now, 40% unchanged, and 14% more conservative.

  • At the rate mainline denominations are capitulating to ungodly secular forces, it’s only a matter of time before they also support gay marriage.

Calif. Voters Say No to New Taxes

Voters in California on Tuesday slapped down a slew of tax hikes and borrowing measures that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said were needed to solve the state’s fiscal dilemma. Four out of five measures dealing with higher taxes had failed by nearly 2-to-1, and the fifth was trailing badly. The only measure to pass was one that banned pay raises for elected officials in deficit years. The defeat of the measures might indicate trouble for other states considering taxes to fill budget gaps, experts said. Forty-four states predict 2010 budget shortfalls of at least $121 billion, the National Conference of State Legislatures says.

Senators Reject Closing Gitmo

President Obama’s promise to close the Guantanamo Bay prison suffered a blow Tuesday when his allies in the Senate said they would refuse to finance the move until the administration delivers a satisfactory plan for what to do with the detainees there. As the Senate took up Obama’s request for money for military and diplomatic operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, Democrats reversed course and said they would deny the request for $80 million for the Justice and Defense departments to relocate the 240 detainees at the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Congress Passes Anti-Foreclosure Bill

Congress on Tuesday sent the president legislation that encourages banks to spare homeowners from foreclosure, after the industry helped scuttle a tougher measure that would have forced lenders to reduce monthly payments of owners in bankruptcy. The House voted 367-54 to pass the Helping Families Save Their Homes Act. The Senate had voted 91-5 in favor of the bill and approved the final version by unanimous consent. The bill would expand an existing $300 billion program that encourages lenders to write down an individual’s mortgage if the homeowner agrees to pay an insurance premium. The program, set to expire in 2011, would swap out a homeowner’s high-interest rate for a 30-year fixed loan backed by the Federal Housing Administration. Because of strict eligibility requirements, only 50-some homeowners are refinancing through the program compared to the 400,000 people it was estimated to help.

Senate Passes Credit Card Bill

The Senate overwhelmingly approved a bill Tuesday to reform much-criticized credit card practices, putting such changes one step closer to being signed into law by President Obama. The bill— which passed the Senate 90-5 — imposes restrictions on late and over-limit fees, and on interest rate increases on existing debt. It also requires issuers to consider consumers’ ability to pay when issuing cards or raising credit limits. Banks say new restrictions, when credit already is tight, will cause them to clamp down even more.

Swine N1H1 Flu

The number of confirmed swine flu cases in Japan soared Monday to more than 130 as the government moved to shut down nearly 2,000 schools and companies discouraged unnecessary travel to quell the spread of the disease. The new wave of infections did not have a clear connection to foreign travel, as the initial one did, and involved primarily teenagers. None of the 135 patients were in serious condition. The new wave would make Japan the fourth-most infected country in the world, after Mexico, the United States and Canada.

Drug manufacturers won’t be able to start making a swine flu vaccine until mid-July at the earliest, weeks later than previous predictions, the World Health Organization said Tuesday. It will then take months to produce a new vaccine. The disclosure that making a swine flu vaccine is proving more difficult than experts first thought came as U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and WHO chief Dr. Margaret Chan met Tuesday with representatives from about 30 pharmaceutical companies to discuss the subject. According to vaccine experts convened by WHO, swine flu virus is not growing very fast in laboratories, making it difficult for scientists to get the key ingredient they need for a vaccine, the “seed stock” from the virus, the agency reported. Experts also found no evidence that regular flu vaccines offer any protection against swine flu.

U.S. Students Lag in Biosciences

Middle and high school students across the country are generally falling behind in life sciences, and the nation is at risk of producing a dearth of qualified workers for the fast-growing bioscience industry, according to a report released Monday. Students are showing less interest in taking life sciences and science courses, and high schools are doing a poor job of preparing students for college-level science, says the report, funded and researched by Battelle, the Biotechnology Industry Organization and the Biotechnology Institute. The deficiencies will hurt the country’s competitiveness with the rest of the world in the knowledge-based economy, the report concludes. Biosciences cut across the pharmaceutical industry, agriculture, and research and medical laboratories. Average scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress for 12th graders in the sciences and life sciences declined from 1996 to 2005. Only 28% of high school students taking the ACT reached a score indicating college readiness for biology.

Obama to Drive Up MPG Requirements

The Obama administration announced Tuesday a sweeping revision to auto-emission and fuel-economy standards, putting them in the same package for the first time. It would require cars and trucks to average 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016. That would be up from 35 mpg in 2020 under the standard set by the 2007 Energy Act. It also would boost the average price of a new vehicle $600 on top of the $700 price boost already envisioned in the 2007 law, for a total of $1,300. Carol Browner, the White House energy and climate director, called it a “truly historic” occasion and saying that such tougher environmental standards have been “long overdue.” The plan also would effectively end a feud between automakers and states over emission standards — with the states getting tougher standards, but automakers getting the single national standard they’ve been seeking, and more time to make the changes. To streamline the rulemaking process, the two agencies mainly responsible — the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation — would work jointly, almost unheard of, an administration official said.

Economic News

Housing construction plunged to a record low in April as a steep drop in apartment building offset a rebound in single-family construction. The Commerce Department says construction of new homes and apartments fell 12.8% last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 458,000 units, slowest pace on records going back a half-century. Compared to the same period last year, housing starts were down 54.2%. Single-family homes were started in April at a 368,000-unit annual rate, 2.8% higher than March.

Homebuilder sentiment jumped to its highest level in eight months in May, a private survey showed Monday, supporting views that the three-year housing slump might be close to an end. While still near an historic low, the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index rose to 16 from 14 in April. The NAHB attributed the second straight monthly increase in the gauge — which measures builder confidence in the market for newly built, single-family homes — to “the best home buying conditions of a lifetime.”

News outlets are reporting that several of the nation’s biggest banking firms will be allowed to repay early the billions of dollars in federal bailout funds they have received. The banks claim they are healthier, and they want a competitive advantage by freeing themselves of federal scrutiny and constraints on compensation. Goldman Sachs Group, JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley have applied to repay the combined $45 billion they received in October from the Troubled Asset Relief Program. The Financial Times writes that the federal government “would allow five or six big financial groups to return taxpayers’ money before the rest of the industry. Treasury SecretaryTimothy Geithner expects financial institutions to repay $25 billion of their government rescue loans in the coming year.

American Express said Monday it is eliminating about 4,000 jobs as part of a plan to slash another $800 million in costs for the remainder of the year. The layoffs represent about 6% of the New York-based credit card issuer’s current global work force.

Japan’s economy contracted in the first quarter at the fastest pace (15.2%) since 1955 as exports plunged and companies slashed production.

Britain on Monday began offering cash incentives to buyers of new cars who scrap their old model, a program that has already proved very popular in other parts of Europe as a way to help the struggling auto sector. The government and car manufacturers are sharing the cost of giving a discount of 2,000 pounds ($3,000) to motorists who scrap an old car or van — a “banger” in British slang — when buying a new one. The old car must be roadworthy, have been registered before Aug. 21, 1999.

Obama and Netanyahu Meet for Mideast Talks

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday he is ready to resume peace talks with the Palestinians immediately, but any agreement is contingent on their acceptance of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. Obama said he expects a positive response from his diplomatic outreach to Iran on stopping its nuclear program by the end of the year. At the same time, Obama said bluntly that it was important that Netanyahu, a hard-liner on peace negotiations with the Palestinians, get back to the negotiating table. While his language was gentle, Obama’s words were notable nonetheless for being made in public. During his meeting with US President Barack Obama on Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a commitment that Israel would not attack Iran at least until the end of the year, so as not to disturb Washington’s plans for dialogue with Tehran over its renegade nuclear program

Iran Tests Missile

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Iran successfully test-fired a new advanced missile Wednesday with a range of about 1,200 miles, far enough to strike Israel and southeastern Europe. The announcement comes two days after President Obama declared a readiness to seek deeper international sanctions against Iran if it shunned U.S. attempts to open negotiations on its nuclear program. Obama said he expected a positive response to his outreach for opening a dialogue with Iran by the end of the year. A U.S. official confirmed the launch.

Pakistan

Pakistan was racing Tuesday to help refugees fleeing a military offensive against the Taliban in a northwestern valley — an exodus of some 1.5 million of a speed and size the U.N. said could rival the displacement caused by Rwanda’s genocide. The humanitarian challenge comes as the military said more than 30 militants and soldiers died as troops tried to re-conquer key towns in the Swat Valley and clashed with insurgents near the Afghan border. Lt. Gen. Nadeem Ahmed, who leads a group tasked with dealing with the uprooted Pakistanis, said the government had enough flour and other food for the displaced but said it needed donations of fans and high energy biscuits. He also said the refugees would get money and free transport when it was safe enough to return. The U.S. has praised Pakistan’s military operation in Swat and surrounding districts, which comes amid long-standing American pressure to root out al-Qaeda and Taliban hide-outs along the border with Afghanistan.

Pakistan denied Monday it was expanding its nuclear arsenal, a week after the top U.S. military officer said there was evidence it was doing so. “Pakistan does not need to expand its nuclear arsenal but we want to make it clear that we will maintain a minimum nuclear deterrence that is essential for our defense and stability,” he said. “We will not make any compromise.” Pakistan, a desperately poor country of 170 million people, is thought to possess more than 60 nuclear weapons under a program that began when its traditional enemy, India, started producing them. The advance of the Taliban has raised some concerns in the West that the weapons may one day fall into militant hands. A more likely scenario, analysts say, is that Islamists may infiltrate its nuclear facilities and get hold of nuclear knowledge and material.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced a $110 million aid package for Pakistan on Tuesday that will support international efforts to relieve a humanitarian crisis in the Swat Valley that has left about 2 million people temporarily homeless. The U.S. military will deliver the aid, which was requested by Pakistan. It will include 30,000 family relief kits, 5,000 tents, water trucks and food. The aid money will also buy locally made products to boost Pakistani merchants.

Official: More than 1M Child Prostitutes in India

CNN reports that more than a million of India’s children are victims of their own country. According to the country’s federal police, about 1.2 million children are caught in prostitution inside the country. Ashwani Kumar, who heads the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), called India a source, transit nation, and destination of the trade all in one. “[S]tudies and surveys sponsored by the ministry of women and child development estimate that there are about three million prostitutes in the country, of which an estimated 40 percent are children,” a CBI statement said. Authorities believe 90 percent of human trafficking in India is “intra-country.”

Earthquakes

A small but widely felt aftershock jolted the Los Angeles region Tuesday, two days after a magnitude-4.7 earthquake struck. There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries. The magnitude-4 temblor hit at 3:49 p.m. and was centered 10 miles southwest of downtown Los Angeles, near the Los Angeles International Airport, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

May 18, 2009

New GI Bill

A new law, the Post-9/11 GI Bill, increases education aid for veterans who have served at least 90 days after the terrorist attacks. The bill takes effect Aug. 1. The new law, which could potentially more than double the amount covered in the current GI Bill, could open college doors to thousands of veterans, many of whom would not otherwise have considered college because of the expense. The law provides the equivalent of in-state tuition at the highest-priced public college in the state where the veteran lives, based on undergraduate tuition and fees. There is also a monthly housing allowance and a $1,000 stipend for books and supplies.

  • As the Vietnam War showed, our returning troops need more thanks, respect and assistance. This is a good start.

America Not a Christian nation?

While Barack Obama has repeatedly claimed that the U.S. is “no longer a Christian nation,” several members of Congress have taken a stand to boldly disagree. A bipartisan group of 25 members of the House of Representatives earlier this month submitted H.Res. 397, which calls on Congress to affirm “the rich spiritual and religious history of our nation’s founding and subsequent history” and to designate the first week of May as America’s Spiritual Heritage Week for “the appreciation of and education on America’s history of religious faith.” Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., specifically challenged the president’s claims that America is not a Christian nation in a news conference announcing the bill immediately following last week’s National Day of Prayer observance. “The overwhelming evidence suggests that this nation was born and birthed with Judeo-Christian principles,” Forbes told reporters, “and I would challenge anybody to tell me that point in time when we ceased to be so, because it doesn’t exist.”

Obama/Protests at Notre Dame

Former Republican presidential candidate Alan Keyes and 17 others were arrested Friday after marching on to the University of Notre Dame campus to protest President Obama’s commencement speech Sunday. Eighteen more were arrested Saturday. It was the latest in a series of protests that have divided this community during preparations for what normally is a festive weekend. Anti-abortion activists have descended on South Bend from across the U.S. for the last three weeks and thousands more are expected this weekend — most armed with Bibles and graphic images of aborted fetuses. They are here to protest the invitation for Obama to speak and receive an honorary degree at one of the nation’s premier Catholic universities. The Catholic Church opposes abortion; Obama opposes an abortion ban.

For the two 2009 Notre Dame graduates, memories of their commencement will be forever filtered by the president’s visit — but for opposite reasons. Their views exemplify the polarization fueled by the school’s invitation to Obama, who addressed the controversy during a speech in which he encouraged grads to face others with open hearts, open minds, and fair-minded words — the Notre Dame tradition. Three protesters inside the convocation center attempted to disrupt the president’s address, but their comments were drowned out by students and they were escorted away by security personnel. A handful of the more than 1,000 pro-life advocates who gathered outside the university’s main entrance Sunday also tried to press the issue by violating a Notre Dame ban on entering the campus with signs and placards depicting graphic images of aborted fetuses. Obama said he was not suggesting the debate for abortion could or should go away. “Both sides make a case with passion and conviction,” Obama said. But they should do so “without reducing those of other views to caricature.”

  • Abortion is, and will continue to be, one of the two primary differences between secularists and born-again Christians. Gay rights is the other. President Obama said we need to find “common ground.” There is no common ground on these issues. These polarizing issues will not go away until Jesus returns. In the meantime, Christians must not give up the fight for what’s right. Every death prevented, every life saved, is precious.

Parents Can’t Refuse Chemo for Son on Religious Grounds

A Minnesota judge has ruled that a 13-year-old boy with a highly treatable form of cancer must seek conventional medical treatment despite his parents’ objections on religious grounds. Daniel’s court-appointed attorney, Philip Elbert, said “I feel it’s a blow to families,” he said. “It marginalizes the decisions that parents face every day in regard to their children’s medical care. It really affirms the role that big government is better at making our decisions for us.”

  • Big Brother continues to grow more intrusive at the hands of activist judges using their pulpits to promote the devil’s agenda.

Majority of Americans Pro-Life

A Gallup Poll now shows 51 percent of Americans describing themselves as pro-life — and that only 42 percent of those polled consider themselves pro-abortion. David Osteen of the National Right to Life Committee offers some insight to the findings. “There’s never been a majority in favor of unfettered abortion, if that was the issue,” Osteen explains. “So the strategy of the pro-abortion movement from the beginning has been to shift the argument, if they could — and certainly the rhetoric — away from abortion itself to choice or some other obfuscation.” That, he sasy, allowed politicians to get away with saying they were against abortion, but in favor of choice.

Americans Want Less Government, Less Spending

Most Americans think that Obama administration promises to “invest” tax dollars really mean the government will be spending, not saving, according to a FOX News poll — and 71 percent want less government in their lives.  The Obama administration consistently uses the word “invest” or “investment” instead of government “spending.” Even so, most Americans don’t make the distinction as fully 78 percent say it means spending their tax dollars, not saving them. In addition, 54 percent of voters think the Obama administration is proposing too much of an increase in government spending, while 6 percent say not enough. About a third — 35 percent — says the spending is “about right.” The flip side of government spending is budget cuts, and the poll finds 6 in 10 think President Obama is not cutting enough waste from government, including 84 percent of Republicans, 66 percent of independents and 38 percent of Democrats.

Swine H1N1 Flu

The number of cases in Japan surged to more than 120 on a wave of new confirmations, prompting government-ordered school closures and cancellations of public events. New York City health officials announced Sunday that four Queens public schools and one Catholic school would close for up to five school days. The latest school closings will affect nearly 3,000 students and bring the total number of closures to 11. As of Sunday, the swine flu virus — which WHO calls the A (H1N1) virus — has sickened at least 8,480 people in 39 countries. It has killed 75 people, most of them in Mexico. Most people infected so far have suffered from a mild disease but experts fear the virus might mutate into a deadlier form.

Tucson Citizen to Cease Print Publication

Arizona’s oldest continuously published daily newspaper, the 138-year-old Tucson Citizen, will publish its final print edition Saturday after its owner failed to find a buyer. The closure makes Tucson the latest two-newspaper town to lose one of its dailies. The Citizen published in the afternoon while the Arizona Daily Star has appeared mornings. The news prompted Attorney General Terry Goddard to file a motion for a temporary restraining order and a lawsuit alleging that the Citizen‘s closure violates state and federal antitrust laws.

Economic News

Although producer prices in April rose ever so slightly from March, they registered a fall of 3.7 percent year-on-year, the biggest such drop since 1950. Deflation remains more of a threat than inflation.

The nation’s largest publicly traded trucking company will ask for $1 billion in aid from the federal bailout fund, as creditors come knocking and business continues to sink If approved, YRC would become the first trucking company to get help from the bailout fund, officially known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP. But analysts say the chance of YRC getting any bailout money is slim.

Middle East

Christian Post reports that the number of Christians surrounding Christ’s birthplace continues to dwindle. “Because of the economic pressures, many Christian families when they get the chance, are leaving for a better life abroad,” said Pastor Jack Sara, senior pastor of the Jerusalem Alliance Church in Old City Jerusalem. “We are not the forgotten church; we are the beaten and forgotten church,” one pastor told Release International, which estimates only 5,000 evangelical Christians remain in the West Bank and Gaza. Those who stay face military action in the contested region and sometimes hostile neighbors. “I’ve been beaten up after preaching,” says Steve Khoury, a young ordained Arab minister, “and, as painful as that is physically, you get over it.”

Mission News Network reports that the tide of emigration may have slowed in Iraq, though the number of Christians continues to dwindle. Three Christians were killed in Kirkuk on April 26 by gunmen in two separate attacks, and periodic violence continues. “We talked to our leader in Iraq, and he said there’s about ten major terrorist groups. It’s their job to persecute Christians and go after them.” said Tom Doyle with E3 Partners. Despite the challenges, “”We do know of significant numbers of Christians that are staying and have a fruitful ministry, and God is working in their midst,” he said.

Egyptian security forces have uncovered a large cache of rockets, grenades, mortar shells, mines, ammunition and other weapons destined for Hamas in the Gaza Strip, according to a report in the London based al-Quds al-Arab newspaper on Friday. The cache contained 266 rockets and three antitank missiles, 43 mines, 51 shells, 21 grenades and 178 machine-gun bullets, and had apparently been left for smugglers to ferry into Gaza through the honeycomb of tunnels dug under the border with Sinai.

Kuwaiti Women Win Parliament Seats

Official results announced on state television show that Kuwaiti women have won parliamentary elections for the first time, garnering four seats. The victory is resounding in this conservative Persian Gulf country where parliaments have been men-only. Women were granted political rights in 2005. They failed to make any gains in two previous elections.

Pakistan

A car bomb destroyed an Internet cafe and tore through a bus carrying handicapped children in northwestern Pakistan on Saturday, killing at least 11 people and wounding many more. Elsewhere in the troubled region, an apparent U.S. missile strike hit a Taliban training camp, killing 29 militants, while Pakistani troops killed dozens of Taliban in their bid to re-conquer the Swat Valley. Violence is engulfing Pakistani territory along the Afghan border as American and allied forces crank up the pressure on Al Qaeda and Taliban militants entrenched in the forbidding and barely governed mountains and valleys.

A Pakistani military offensive against Taliban fighters near the Afghan border has killed more than 1,000 suspected insurgents and “will continue till the last Taliban are flushed out,” a top official said Sunday. Pakistan is to extend its war on the Taliban beyond Swat into the fiercely independent tribal areas bordering Afghanistan where Usama Bin Laden and the Al Qaeda leadership are believed to be hiding. President Asif Ali Zardari said Pakistan would need billions of pounds in military assistance and aid for up to 1.7 million refugees, the biggest movement of people since the country’s split from India in 1947.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka declared Monday it had crushed the Tamil Tiger rebels, killing their chief, Velupillai Prabhakaran, and ending his three-decade quest for an independent homeland for minority Tamils. The announcement sparked mass celebrations around the country, and people poured into the streets of Colombo dancing and singing. Prabhakaran’s death has been seen as crucial in bringing closure to this war-wracked Indian Ocean island nation. If he had escaped, he could have used his large international smuggling network and the support of Tamil expatriates to spark a new round of guerrilla warfare here.

Earthquakes

An earthquake that rolled through the Los Angeles area left behind shattered glass and rattled nerves, but no apparent major injuries or damage. The magnitude-4.7 quake, considered moderate, hit at 8:39 p.m. Sunday night, about 10 miles southwest of downtown Los Angeles and three miles east of Los Angeles International Airport, according to a preliminary report by the U.S. Geological Survey. At least five smaller aftershocks had followed by early Monday, with the largest registering at magnitude-3.1 just minutes after the initial quake.

Weather

Flash flooding has closed roads all over Illinois, and meteorologists say severe thunderstorms and high winds are causing more problems throughout an already soggy state. The utility company Ameren reports nearly 13,000 people were without power Friday. The National Weather Service issued tornado warnings for more than 10 counties in central Illinois. Flash flood warnings are in effect for about 35 counties.

May 15, 2009

Some States Pass Sovereignty Measures

For some states, the message to the federal government is clear: Back off. Legislatures in Alaska, Idaho, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Dakota this year have approved resolutions asserting sovereignty under the 10th Amendment of the Constitution and suggesting that Uncle Sam “cease and desist” from interfering in their business. The largely Republican backers say the federal government has overstepped its constitutional bounds by meddling in local matters ranging from education to drunken driving. Oklahoma’s Senate on Wednesday gave final approval to a sovereignty resolution, in defiance of a veto from the state’s Democratic governor, Brad Henry Similar measures are under consideration in at least two dozen other states. State sovereignty efforts have won the endorsement of two GOP gubernatorial candidates, one of whom — Gov. Rick Perry, up for re-election next year in Texas— made headlines last month by suggesting the movement could lead to some states seceding.

  • The 10th Amendment reads: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Very few “powers” were delegated to the Federal Government (e.g. defense). Most of what constitutes the Federal Government now is in violation of the Constitution. It’s time we return to state’s rights and gut the Federal bureaucracy.

Calif. Voters Ready to Join Tax Revolt

Three months after California seemingly averted a state budget meltdown, voters are being asked to ratify billions of dollars in higher taxes that were part of the deal. So far, voters don’t seem to be buying it, a mood that portends trouble for other deficit-addled states whose political leaders are proposing tax hikes as a way out. Among the half-dozen ballot initiatives facing voters in a special election Tuesday are tax hikes and borrowing measures that are the centerpiece of Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s budget plan. Two polls, one conducted by the Field Poll in late April and another by the Public Policy Institute of California in early May, found Schwarzenegger’s proposals trailing badly.

Pentagon Destroys Bibles

It’s a story that hasn’t gotten much press. The Pentagon has acknowledged seizing and burning the privately owned Bibles of American soldiers serving in Afghanistan.  The Bibles had been printed in the local Pashto and Dari languages, and sent by private donors to American Christian soldiers and chaplains, for distribution to American troops on overseas military bases during optionally-attended Christian worship services. Had the Bibles not been seized and destroyed, they could have legally been given as gifts during off-duty time to Afghani citizens who welcome our troops in their homes

  • So it’s OK to shoot and kill Afghans, but it’s illegal to share the gospel with them. We have traded bullets for the “gospel of peace” (Eph. 6:15).

Pope in Nazareth: ‘Reject Hatred and Prejudice’

Pope Benedict XVI greeted tens of thousands of adoring followers in Jesus’ childhood hometown with a message of reconciliation Thursday, urging Christian and Muslims there to overcome recent strife and “reject the destructive power of hatred and prejudice.” The pope delivered his message on the fourth day of a Holy Land pilgrimage meant to promote peace and unity in the Middle East. The choice of Nazareth— home to many key sites in Christianity — as the venue for the largest Mass the pope has celebrated during his visit, is the country’s largest Arab city. Roughly two-thirds of its 65,000 people are Muslims and one-third are Christian. While the two communities tend to get along, they also have come into sporadic conflict.

Religious Citizens More Involved

First, the silver lining: people of faith are better citizens and better neighbors, and America is “amazingly” religious compared to other countries, says Harvard University professor Robert Putnam. Now, the cloud: young Americans are “vastly more secular” than their older counterparts, according to Putnam. A celebrated political scientist, Putnam has long been concerned with declining participation in American civic life. But religious people may be God’s gift to civic engagement, Putnam and University of Notre Dame scholar DavidCampbell argue in their book, American Grace: How Religion is Reshaping our Civic and Political Lives, which is scheduled to be released next year.

The scholars say their studies found that religious people are three to four times more likely to be involved in their community. They are more apt than nonreligious Americans to work on community projects, belong to voluntary associations, attend public meetings, vote in local elections, attend protest demonstrations and political rallies, and donate time and money to causes — including secular ones.

Churchgoers, Pastors Struggle to Define Spiritual Maturity

The Barna Group reports that many people in the pews have no idea what “spiritual maturity” actually means – possibly because their pastors can’t define it either. A new Barna study found that half of churchgoers cannot describe how their church defines a “healthy, spiritually mature follower of Jesus,” including those that call themselves “born again Christians.” The most common answers included “trying hard to follow the rules described in the Bible,” even among Christians who say that good works are not a prerequisite for salvation. Born again Christians were more likely to point to “a relationship with Jesus” as a sign of spiritual maturity, but more than half said following the rules translates into spiritual maturity. Pastors also struggled to point out specific Bible passages describing the measure for spiritual maturity – one third simply said “the whole Bible.”

  • Sad. The Bible has much to say about spiritual maturity (see online course on www.lofj.com under the “Workshops” tab at the bottom of the page).

BBC Appoints Muslim to Oversee Religious Content

Earlier this week the British Broadcasting Corporation, or BBC, appointed a Muslim as head of its religious programming department — a move being hailed as a “radical departure from broadcasting tradition.” Aaqil Ahmed, former executive at Channel 4, is the new of Head of Religion and Ethics and Commissioning Editor for Religion TV, a position some call one of the most influential religious roles in the United Kingdom. Dr. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, is concerned over the appointment of a Muslim, claiming it comes at a time when Christian leaders worry their faith is being marginalized and criticized by authorities. The Church of England notes that Muslims make up only three percent of the country’s population while nearly 70 percent claim to be Christian.

  • The New World (Dis)Order is using Islam to marginalize Christianity. They had better be careful about letting this genie out of the bottle.

Out-of-Wedlock Births on the Rise Worldwide

The percentage of births to unmarried mothers is increasing worldwide, according to a new federal report that shows a universal upward trend over the last 25 years. Among 14 countries analyzed in the report by the National Center for Health Statistics, the percentage of all live unmarried births in the USA — 40% in 2007 — ranks somewhere in the middle. That’s up from 18% in 1980. The sharpest rise was from 2002 to 2007, the report found. Countries with a higher proportion of births to unmarried mothers include Iceland, Sweden (55%), Norway (54%), France (50%), Denmark (46%) and the United Kingdom (44$); countries with a lower percentage than the USA include Ireland (33%), Germany (30%), Canada (30%), Spain (28%), Italy (21%) and Japan (2%).

  • More than double since 1980! Almost half of all births. This is shocking news. Where has the media been on this story? Fueling the fires, that’s where. As the media promote and market sex, it isn’t surprising to see these results, nor is it surprising that they would suppress the story over the past few decades.

Minority Population Increasing. But at Slower Rate

The minority population increased 2.3% to 104.6 million from mid-2007 to July 1, 2008, or just over one-third of the total population, the Census Bureau reported. Hispanics had the highest growth rate — 3.2% — during the 12 months. Although immigration has slowed, higher birth rates among Hispanics make them the fastest growing group. Births, rather than immigration, accounted for about two-thirds of the 1.47 million increase in the Hispanic population in 2008. Births among Hispanics outpaced deaths by nearly 10 to one. Forty-seven percent of children under 5 are minorities, as are 43% of young people under age 20.

Deterred by immigration laws and the lackluster economy, the population growth of Hispanics and Asians in the U.S. has slowed unexpectedly, causing the government to push back estimates on when minorities will become the majority by as much as a decade. Census data also showed that fewer Hispanics are migrating to suburbs and newly emerging immigrant areas in the Southeast, staying put instead in traditional gateway locations such as California. The slowdown among Hispanics and Asians continues to shift conventional notions on when the tipping point in U.S. diversity will come; it is estimated to occur more than three decades from now. Black growth rates remain somewhat flat.

Phones, Gadgets Zap Conservation Gains

Think you’re green or trying to be? Rising energy demand from computers, TVs, cellphones, iPods and other gadgets threatens to crush the progress made elsewhere in lowering power consumption, the International Energy Agency reported. The IEA warned that household electronic devices could triple energy demand by 2030. “Without new policies, the energy consumed by information and communications technologies as well as consumer electronics will double by 2022 and increase threefold by 2030 to 1,700 Terawatt hours. This will jeopardize efforts to increase energy security and reduce the emission of greenhouse gases,” the IEA wrote in a new publication, Gadgets and Gigawatts.

Swine H1N1 Flu

Health investigators are trying to figure out why swine flu has spread erratically — moving quickly through a few schools but slowly elsewhere — after an outbreak closed three more New York schools. The decision on Thursday to shutter the schools follows an outbreak that left an assistant principal in critical condition and sent hundreds of kids home with flu symptoms. A woman in Arizona suffering from a lung condition has apparently become the fourth person in the nation to die with swine flu.

As swine flu cases topped 6,600 worldwide, vaccine makers and other experts met Thursday at the World Health Organization to discuss the tough decisions that must be made quickly to fight the evolving virus. Pharmaceutical companies are ready to begin making a swine flu vaccine — but as the virus may mutate, questions abound: How much should be produced? How will it be distributed? Who should get it?

Swine flu may be due to human error, according a prominent scientist (Adrian Gibbs) who participated in the development of Roche’s product, Tamiflu. The WHO and CDC immediately denounced the suggestion as “bad science”. Gibb’s research does raise troubling questions. Genetic mutation of H1N1 is occuring three times faster than strains of known and natural flu strains. This suggests human manipulation of the genes in the first place. But, Gibbs suggests that an accidental release of the strain is more likely than a deliberate act.

Obama to Restart Gitmo Tribunals

President Obama will restart Bush-era military tribunals for a small number of Guantanamo detainees, reviving a fiercely disputed trial system he once denounced but with new legal protections for terror suspects, U.S. officials said Thursday. Obama suspended the tribunals within hours of taking office in January, ordering a review but stopping short of abandoning President George W. Bush’s strategy of prosecuting suspected terrorists. Obama’s decision to resume the tribunals is certain to face criticism from liberal groups, already stung by his decision Wednesday to block the court-ordered release of photos showing U.S. troops abusing prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan. It marked a reversal of his earlier stand on making the photos public.

  • It’s somewhat reassuring to know that President Obama is willing to learn on the job.

House Passes $97 billion War-Funding Bill

Despite Democrats’ rising anxiety about Afghanistan, the House on Thursday easily passed a $96.7 billion measure filling President Obama’s request for war spending and foreign aid efforts there and in Iraq. Some 51 Democrats broke with Obama, who is sending thousands more troops into Afghanistan, but all but a handful of Republicans stood behind the president to produce a 368-60 tally. Republicans supported the measure even though majority Democrats added almost $12 billion to Obama’s $85 billion request.

  • Obama and Republicans unite? This isn’t the bipartisanship the Democrats had in mind.

Relief Expanded for Struggling Homeowners

The Obama administration unveiled new programs Thursday designed to make it easier for homeowners who owe far more than their houses are now worth to sell those homes at a loss and have their remaining debt forgiven. The programs, announced by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, are the latest additions to Making Home Affordable, an evolving $75 billion plan that tries to break the national housing crisis into separate pieces, attacking the problem on several fronts. The first two legs of the program sought to help borrowers refinance into today’s low mortgage rates, or if they’re behind on payments, to seek loan modifications to avoid foreclosure.

Economic News

Consumer prices were unchanged in April from March, industrial output declined at a slower pace and consumer sentiment rose in May, reports showed Friday, providing more evidence that the worst phase of the recession may be over. The Labor Department said its closely watched consumer price index was flat in April, after falling 0.1% in March. A separate report from the Federal Reserve showed U.S. industrial production fell 0.5% last month, a sixth consecutive monthly decline but at a more modest pace than in recent months. A third report said consumer confidence rose in early May to its strongest since September.

The economy of the 16 countries that use the euro currency has shrunk by a massive 2.5% in the first quarter of 2009 as the recession tightens its grip. The euro economy has now declined for four straight quarters. Official figures show economic powerhouse Germany saw its economy shrink 3.8% as demand for its high value goods, such as cars and machinery, collapsed.

Panasonic fell deep into the red last fiscal year, joining the expanding group of big Japanese brands shell-shocked by their rapid descent from cash cow to money loser. The world’s biggest plasma TV maker Friday reported a 378.96 billion yen ($4 billion) loss for the fiscal year ended in March — its first loss in seven years.

Chrysler has told a bankruptcy court that it plans to eliminate 789 dealers — or about 25% of them — as part of its restructuring process. The automaker has about 3,200 dealers and says that’s too many. It wants to have stronger, more profitable dealers with better facilities. The dealers likely will have a right to appeal to get off the list. The move could have a devastating impact on cities across the U.S., costing jobs and tax revenue. GM said it will notify 1,100 U.S. dealers Friday that their franchise agreements will not be renewed. Both companies have too many dealerships for too few sales.

The number of workers filing new claims for jobless benefits rose more than expected last week, the government said Thursday, pushed up by auto plant shutdowns related to Chrysler’s bankruptcy. Initial claims for state unemployment insurance benefits increased 32,000 to a seasonally adjusted 637,000 the week ended May 9, reversing an easing trend of the previous two weeks. The number of people staying on the benefit rolls after collecting an initial week of aid jumped 202,000 to a record 6.56 million.

The Treasury Department plans to extend bailout loans beyond banks and automakers to six of the nation’s largest life insurance companies under the so-called Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP. Insurers that applied by the program’s deadline of Nov. 14, 2008, and have bank-holding company status, were eligible for government funds.

The nation’s teetering economy has Uncle Sam playing a growing role in neighborhoods across the country — as a homeowner. The combination of a deep recession and a foundering housing market has left the government with more than 50,000 houses on its hands. The houses it owns are harder to sell, they typically sit empty longer, and in many cases, their values cratered as the real estate market collapsed. Since 2007, the Department of Housing and Urban Development has acquired at least 110,000 foreclosed houses, its records show, spending about $12.2 billion to reimburse lenders after the owners defaulted on government-backed loans. So far, HUD has been able to recover only about $5.5 billion by reselling them.

Home of ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ Star Demolished

City workers demolishing part of a Mumbai slum on Thursday bulldozed the home of a Slumdog Millionaire child star. Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail was asleep in his shanty when a police officer woke him up and told him to leave, he said. Shortly after that, about 30 homes were destroyed. Eight Oscars and $326 million in box office receipts have so far done little to improve the lives of the film’s two impoverished child stars, Azhar and Rubina Ali. They have been showered with gifts and brief bursts of fame, but their day-to-day lives are little changed. Thursday morning, city workers flanked by policemen arrived as part of a slum demolition drive — common in India’s crowded chaotic cities.

“They didn’t give prior notice. We didn’t even get a chance to take out our belongings,” said Shameem Ismail, Azhar’s mother, who has lived in the shanty town for more than 15 years. She has no legal right to the land. Slumdog filmmakers say they’ve done their best to help. They set up a trust, called Jai Ho, after the hit song from the film, to ensure the children get proper homes, a good education and a nest egg when they finish high school. They also donated $747,500 to a charity to help slum kids in Mumbai.

Iran deploys missiles in Persian Gulf

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps has deployed mobile ground-to-air and ground-to-sea missile batteries in the Strait of Hormuz and other areas in the Persian Gulf, a senior Iranian official was quoted by Al Watan as saying on Tuesday. The source told the Saudi-based newspaper that the move was made after Iran received reports that the US and Israel were preparing to attack the Islamic Republic’s nuclear facilities. The comments come in the wake of a warning from the General Commander of the Iranian Army, Ataollah Salehi, that in his estimate it would “take us 11 days to wipe Israel out of existence.”

Pakistan/Afghanistan

Pakistan’s army says 55 Taliban and three soldiers have died in the last 24 hours of its offensive in the Swat Valley area. A military statement issued Friday says militants are fleeing the valley. At least 22 Taliban militants, including three regional commanders, were killed overnight in fighting in southern Afghanistan, a provincial official said Friday.

Sri Lanka

Thousands of civilians braved rebel fire Thursday to break out of Sri Lanka’s war zone, the military said, as health workers abandoned the only hospital in the area — leaving hundreds of wounded behind — because of unrelenting shelling. At least four civilians were killed and 14 others wounded when the rebels shot at them as they waded across a lagoon that forms the front line of the war,. The Red Cross said the war zone was wracked by fighting Thursday, despite appeals from President Obama and the U.N. for the two sides to end their civil war and let the estimated 50,000 civilians trapped in the area escape.

Mexico

The bodies of four U.S. citizens were found strangled, beaten and stabbed in a van in this border city, two days after they reportedly left their Southern California homes for a night at the Mexican clubs, U.S. officials said Thursday. Their deaths are the latest in a string of violence in Tijuana that authorities blame on a bloody turf war between drug cartels.

Wildfires

A wildfire fueled by a gusty breeze is spreading near a scenic coastal town in Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula. The blaze 15 miles northeast of Homer has grown to nearly 2 square miles, threatening about 50 homes. Some residents have chosen to remain instead of heeding an advisory evacuation. At least two structures have been destroyed.

A growing number of wildfires in California are joined by a common, incriminating back-story: People caused them. Government statistics show that people were faulted for 5,208 wildfires in Southern California in 2008, the highest number since at least 2001. Between 2006 and 2008, Southern California was the only region of the country to see a significant jump in the number of wildfires blamed on people. In a densely populated, drought-stricken region where development pushes into areas known to burn, the result is predictable. “As the drought continues in California, there are going to be more human-caused fires,” says Don Smurthwaite, a spokesman for the National Interagency Fire Center.

Weather

Violent storms tore through four Midwestern states Wednesday, killing three people in northern Missouri, damaging dozens of homes and leaving thousands without power. About 30 to 40 homes were damaged, one was destroyed, and an auto dealership sustained significant damage.

Temperatures will climb 15 to 25 degrees above average across the West this weekend, with most locations feeling the peak of the heat on Sunday. With temperatures approaching excessive heat critieria, residents are advised to take precautions to deal with the warm weather.

May 13, 2009

Praise Reports

The gunman who shot Pope John Paul II says he would like to convert to Christianity at a baptism ceremony at the Vatican after his release from prison in January. Mehmet Ali Agca shot and seriously wounded John Paul on May 13, 1981. The late pope met with Agca in an Italian prison in 1983 and forgave him for the shooting. Agca served 19 years in an Italian prison for the attack and is currently serving a prison term in Turkey for killing journalist Abdi Ipekci.

Abstinence-Only Funds Cut

President Obama’s new budget would eliminate most money for abstinence-only sex education and shift it to teen pregnancy prevention — a U-turn in what has been more than a decade of sex education policy in the USA. The proposed budget, sent to Congress last Thursday, “reflects the research,” says Melody Barnes, director of the team that coordinates White House domestic policy. Abstinence-only sex education programs, which emphasize a no-sex-until-marriage message, received almost $1.3 billion in federal dollars from fiscal years 2001-2009, according to the Office of Management and Budget. At the same time, studies of abstinence-only programs have shown little success; the most often-cited study, released in 2007, was congressionally mandated and federally funded and found that abstinence-only programs don’t prevent or delay teen sex.

  • The real problem is that teens receive their sex education from TV, movies, etc. The vile media trumps all other efforts.

Tea Party ‘Extremists’ to Reload July 4

The American Family Association is now sponsoring Independence Day tea parties in more than 640 U.S. cities in all 50 states. The Taxed Enough Already, or TEA, parties will be held at 12 p.m. in front of city halls across the nation. AFA is hosting a Tea Party Day website so volunteer organizers may register their protests. The recent Tax Day protests were extremely popular and successful. A new poll reveals many Americans support beliefs of tax protest organizers. According to a Zogby poll commissioned by the O’Leary Report that was released April 28, the survey of 3,937 voters in the last election shows a full 57.1 percent of respondents somewhat or strongly support beliefs of tea party organizers, while 39.3 percent somewhat or strongly opposed them.

N.Y. Assembly Passes Same-Sex Marriage Legislation

The state Assembly passed legislation Tuesday night that would allow same-sex marriages in New York, but the measure faces an uncertain future in the state Senate. The Democratic-led Assembly voted 89-52 after nearly four hours of debate on whether New York should join five other states in allowing gay couples to receive marriage licenses.

‘Gay’ Gene Claim Suddenly Vanishes

A publication from the American Psychological Association includes an admission that there is no “gay” gene. The statement from the American Psychological Association came in a brochure that updates what the APA has advocated for years. Specifically, in a brochure that first came out about 1998, the APA stated: “There is considerable recent evidence to suggest that biology, including genetic or inborn hormonal factors, play a significant role in a person’s sexuality.”

However, in the update: a brochure now called, “Answers to Your Questions for a Better Understanding of Sexual Orientation & Homosexuality,” the APA’s position changed. The new statement says: “There is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons that an individual develops a heterosexual, bisexual, gay or lesbian orientation. Although much research has examined the possible genetic, hormonal, developmental, social, and cultural influences on sexual orientation, no findings have emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors. Many think that nature and nurture both play complex roles. …”

Swine (H1N1) Flu

With about 2,600 cases of swine flu reported in all but seven U.S. states, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is changing its focus from identifying cases of H1N1 to a comprehensive, longer-term perspective. Though not ignoring people still falling ill, researchers say they have enough understanding of the outbreak to begin looking ahead at what the new strain of influenza will do during the Southern Hemisphere’s winter flu season, which is just beginning, and how H1N1 may have evolved when it comes back to the Northern Hemisphere next fall for the regular flu season. The World Health Organization reports 5,916 cases of H1N1 flu in 33 countries and 63 deaths as of Monday. The outbreak is still classified as Phase 5, just below a pandemic.

With swine flu still spreading, the U.N. health agency is warning countries to limit their use of antiviral drugs to only high-risk patients to ensure adequate supplies in case the virus should mutate and become more dangerous.

Formaldehyde Linked to Common Cancers

New research raises additional concerns about the harmful effects of formaldehyde, a common chemical found in everything from plywood to nail polish, car exhaust and cigarette smoke. The study — the largest to date on workplace exposures — provides further evidence linking formaldehyde with cancers of the blood and lymphatic system. These cancers affect nearly 140,000 Americans a year. Dangerously high formaldehyde levels have been found in trailers provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to Gulf Coast residents displaced by Hurricane Katrina. A March report from the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, an environmental advocacy group, also found formaldehyde in more than 80% of bath and shampoos tested.

Arizona Trails in Wind Energy

Thirty big wind machines rising off a little-used highway between Holbrook and Heber are a curiosity for now in a state that lags its neighbors in alternative energy. Of the 19 states west of Texas, only Arizona and Nevada still lack operating wind farms to help meet growing energy demands. But that soon will change. The 412-foot turbines, Arizona’s first, will begin sending energy to Salt River Project customers later this year, and many more turbines are on the way. Utilities are rushing to develop alternative energy because of state requirements mandating more renewable sources and because of federal taxes being proposed on activities tied to fossil-fuel burning and global-warming pollution.

Recession Worsens Social Security, Medicare Problems

The financial health of Social Security and Medicare, the government’s two biggest benefit programs, have worsened because of the severe recession, and Medicare is now paying out more than it receives. Trustees of the programs said Tuesday that Social Security will start paying out more in benefits than it collects in taxes in 2016, one year sooner than projected last year, and the giant trust fund will be depleted by 2037, four years sooner. Medicare is in even worse shape. The trustees said the program for hospital expenses will pay out more in benefits than it collects this year and will be insolvent by 2017, two years earlier than the date projected in last year’s report.

Economic News

Retail sales fell for a second straight month in April, a disappointing performance that raised doubts about whether consumers were regaining their desire to shop. A rebound in consumer demand is a necessary ingredient for ending the recession. The Commerce Department said Wednesday that retail sales fell 0.4% last month, following a 1.3% drop in March.

The number of U.S. households faced with losing their homes to foreclosure jumped 32% in April compared with the same month last year, with Nevada, Florida and California showing the highest rates, according to data released Wednesday. More than 342,000 households received at least one foreclosure-related notice in April.

With the economy performing worse than hoped, revised White House figures point to deepening budget deficits, with the government borrowing almost 50 cents for every dollar it spends this year. The deficit for the current budget year will rise by $89 billion to above $1.8 trillion — about four times the record set just last year. The unprecedented red ink flows from the deep recession, the Wall Street bailout, the cost of President Obama’s economic stimulus bill, as well as a structural imbalance between what the government spends and what it takes in.

  • The “unprecedented red ink” has put the final nail in the U.S. economy, but a lingering death will continue to raise false hope.

Both were initially billed as temporary government loans, but the multi-billion-dollar bailouts of Chrysler and General Motors are not likely to be paid back to American taxpayers. The Obama administration’s admitted last week that Chrysler will not repay taxpayers the more than $7 billion bailout it received earlier this year.

The U.S. trade deficit rose in March for the first time since July, but the global recession cut sharply into sales of American exports. The Commerce Department said Tuesday that the deficit widened to $27.6 billion in March, 5.5% higher than February’s revised $26.1 billion trade gap. However, the politically sensitive deficit with China increased.

U.S. Warhead Disposal in 15-year Backlog

President Obama plans deep new cuts in the U.S. nuclear arsenal at a time when the government faces a 15-year backlog of warheads already waiting to be dismantled and a need for billions of dollars in new facilities to store and dispose of the weapons’ plutonium. The logjam of thousands of retired warheads will grow considerably based on a promise made in April by Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to get their stockpiles far below levels set by current disarmament pacts. Yet much of the infrastructure needed to dispose of those weapons don’t exist yet, according to federal audits and other records reviewed by USA TODAY.

U.N. Security Council Calls for a Palestinian State

The United Nations Security Council on Monday called for “urgent efforts” to create a separate Palestinian state and achieve an overall Mideast peace settlement. In a statement by all 15 members read at the end of an open ministerial meeting, the council stressed that “vigorous diplomatic” action was needed to reach an overall settlement and a two-state solution. It encouraged the Quartet of Mideast peacemakers — the U.N., the United States, Russia and the European Union— to continue their efforts to promote a comprehensive Mideast settlement. While Israel’s previous government, led by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, was committed to the goal of Israelis and Palestinians living side by side in peaceful independent states — as called for in several Security Council resolutions — his hawkish successor, Netanyahu, has expressed misgivings about an independent Palestinian state.

  • This apparent solution won’t quench Islamic intentions to eradicate Israel – it just makes it easier.

Afghanistan

Ninety-five Afghan children are among the 140 people said to have died in a recent U.S.-Taliban battle in western Afghanistan, according to a list drawn up by Afghan officials, a lawmaker said Wednesday. The U.S. military disputed the claim. Afghans blame U.S. airstrikes for the deaths and destruction in the villages of Gerani and Ganjabad in Farah province. Sixty-five of the reported victims on the list were female, either adults or children, said lawmaker Obaidullah Helali, a member of the government’s investigative team. If the Afghan toll is correct, it would be the largest case of civilian deaths since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion to oust the Taliban.

A suicide bomb attack killed seven people and wounded 21 Wednesday outside a U.S. military base in the same part of eastern Afghanistan where militants stormed government buildings a day earlier, police said. Eleven Taliban suicide bombers struck government buildings in a bold, day-long assault in eastern Afghanistan Tuesday, sparking running gunbattles with U.S. and Afghan forces that killed 20 people and wounded three Americans  The militant attacks in Khost, a city within sight of the tumultuous border with Pakistan, comes as the U.S. makes leadership changes in Afghanistan that demonstrate a clear break from Bush-era appointees.

Pakistan

Pakistani commandos dropped from helicopters behind Taliban lines in the Swat Valley on Tuesday in a widening offensive that the military said has pushed the number fleeing fighting in the northwest to 1.3 million. Farther south, a suspected U.S. missile attack flattened a house and killed at least eight people in another militant stronghold near the Afghan border. Officials have identified Piochar as the rear-base of an estimated 4,000 Taliban militants. It is seen as a possible hiding place of Swat Taliban chief Maulana Fazlullah. Pakistani authorities launched a full-scale assault on Swat and surrounding districts last week after the Taliban pushed out from the valley on the back of a now-defunct peace deal and extended their control to areas just 60 miles from the capital, Islamabad.

Rising violence, including a string of attacks on NATO and U.S. supplies, have fed concern that more of Pakistan’s border region is slipping from government control and into the hands of the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

Italian Parliament Criminalizes Illegal Immigration

Italy’s lower chamber of parliament has passed a hotly debated measure making it a crime to enter or stay in Italy illegally as Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s conservative forces continue cracking down on illegal migration. It would make it a crime to enter or stay in Italy illegally, punishable by a fine of $6,840-$13,670, although no prison penalty would be imposed. In addition, the legislation imposes a prison term of up to three years for anyone who rents an apartment to an illegal immigrant.

Wildfires

Florida is ablaze with eight wildfires that have burned over 7,800 acres and destroyed eight structures so far. Most of the state is under severe to extreme drought conditions.

Weather

Brazil intensified efforts to get food and other aid to people isolated by severe flooding as waters continued rising Monday in a jungle state nearly the size of Alaska and the number of homeless rose to 308,000. At least 40 people have died in the worst flooding in northern Brazil in at least two decades.

May 11, 2009

Calif. School Day would Honor Homosexual Pioneer

The California State Senate is poised to vote on a bill making an official “homosexual day” in every public school. It would be called “Harvey Milk Day” in honor of the openly homosexual San Francisco Board of Supervisors member who was shot and killed in 1978 along with the city’s mayor, George Moscone. S.B. 572, which was approved 7-to-2 out of committee last week, says observances conducted on May 22 should recognize Milk’s “accomplishments as well as the contributions he made to this state” — and that “all public schools and educational institutions are encouraged to observe…and…conduct suitable commemorative exercises.” Randy Thomasson of SaveCalifornia.com says the legislation designates just another day to indoctrinate children in the tenets of homosexuality. “That’s why we’ve called California parents to get their kids out of the government schools and into the sanctuary of homeschooling or a good church-schooling instead,” he states.

  • We are called upon to love everyone, including homosexuals. However, it is still a sin, and is not to be honored and glorified.

Iran to Free Jailed U.S. Journalist

An American journalist jailed in Iran will be freed Monday and can leave the country immediately, her lawyers said after an appeals court suspended her eight-year prison sentence. Roxana Saberi, a 32-year-old dual American-Iranian national, was convicted last month of spying for the United States and sentenced to eight years in prison. Her case has caused tension between the United States and Iran at a time with President Obama had said he wanted to engage Washington’s longtime adversary in a dialogue. The United States has called the charges against her “baseless” and demanded she be freed. Iran’s judiciary announced that the appeals court, which heard her case on Sunday, had reduced her jail term to a suspended two-year sentence.

Pope Calls for Palestinian Homeland

Pope Benedict XVI called for the establishment of an independent Palestinian homeland immediately after he arrived in Israel Monday, a stance that could put him at odds with his hosts on a trip aimed at improving ties between the Vatican and Jews. The pope also took on the delicate issue of the Holocaust, pledging to “honor the memory” of the 6 million Jewish victims of the Nazi genocide at the start of his five-day visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories. Benedict touched down in Israel on the second leg of a week-long pilgrimage to the Holy Land, after spending three days in neighboring Jordan. He is using the tour to reach out to both Muslims and Jews.

  • The Pope should study the Bible to see that God ordained Israel to have that land.

Swine Flu Overhyped?

Did government health officials “cry swine” when they sounded the alarm on what looked like a threatening new flu? The so-far mild swine flu outbreak has many people saying all the talk about a devastating global epidemic was just fear-mongering hype. But that’s not how public health officials see it, calling complacency the thing that keeps them up at night. The World Health Organization added a scary-sounding warning Thursday, predicting up to 2 billion people could catch the new flu if the outbreak turns into a global epidemic. Many blame such alarms and the breathless media coverage for creating an overreaction that disrupted many people’s lives unnecessarily. Public health authorities acknowledge their worst fears about the new virus have not materialized.

Two weeks after news broke about the new flu strain, there have been 46 deaths — 44 in Mexico and two in the United States. More than 2,300 are sick in 26 countries, including about 900 U.S. cases. Those are much lower numbers than were feared at the start based on early reports of an aggressive and deadly flu in Mexico. The newly identified H1N1 strain of influenza, or swine flu, contains two genes from pig influenzas that so far have been found only in Europe and Asia, and scientists have no idea how they got to Mexico. “Those genes had never been seen in North America before,” says Michael Shaw, a microbiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  • The New World (Dis)Order folks will use any excuse to promote the need for worldwide response to any crisis, which some say they manufacture to begin with.

Study Links Viewing Adult-Themed TV to Earlier Sex in Teens

Teens who watched adult-themed movies and television shows as children become sexually active at a younger age than their peers, a Children’s Hospital Boston study finds. It included 754 participants who were monitored during childhood and again five years later when they were aged 12 to 18. The earlier in their life they were exposed to adult content, the earlier they became sexually active. For every hour of adult-targeted television or movies watched over two sample days by children when they were 6 to 8 years old, there was a 33% increased risk of becoming sexually active in early adolescence.

  • No surprise here, but it’s good to have it documented. Parents need to regain control over their children’s viewing choices

Health Reform Gets a Boost from Industry

President Barack Obama’s plan to provide medical insurance for all Americans took a big step toward becoming reality Sunday after leaders of the health-care industry offered $2 trillion in spending reductions over 10 years to help pay for it. Hospitals, insurance companies, drug makers and doctors siad that they will voluntarily slow their rate increases in coming years in a move that government economists say would create breathing room to help provide health insurance to an estimated 50 million Americans who now go without it. With this move, Obama picks up key private-sector allies that fought former President Bill Clinton’s effort to overhaul health care.

  • More vaporous promises. How do we know what rate increases they would have implemented?

401(k)s Hit by Withdrawal Freezes

Some investors in 401(k) retirement funds who are moving to grab their money are finding they can’t. Even with recent gains in stocks, the months of market turmoil have delivered a blow to some 401(k) participants: freezing their investments in certain plans. In some cases, individual investors can’t withdraw money from certain retirement-plan options. In other cases, employers are having trouble getting rid of risky investments in 401(k) plans. Though 401(k) plans revolutionized the retirement-savings landscape by putting investment decisions in the hands of individuals, the restrictions show that plan participants aren’t always in the driver’s seat.

Job Losses Shrink, Jobless Rate Up

The pace of layoffs slowed in April, when employers cut 539,000 jobs, fewest in six months. But the unemployment rate climbed to 8.9%, highest since late 1983, as many businesses remain wary of hiring. The new report underscored the toll the longest recession since World War II has taken on workers and companies. But the slowdown in job losses may bolster hopes that the worst of the downturn is past. Still, companies will typically remain cautious in hiring until they are sure of an economic turnaround, making it hard for laid-off workers to find jobs. If workers who have given up looking for new jobs or have settled for part-time work are included, the unemployment rate would have been 15.8% in April, highest on records dating back to 1994.

Stress Tests Show 10 big banks Need $75 billion More

Three months of intense anticipation ended Thursday when the Obama administration said stress tests found that 10 of the largest U.S. banks will have to raise a total of $75 billion to prepare for losses that could come from a deepening recession. Bank of America will have to raise $33.9 billion; Wells Fargo13.7 billion; GMAC, $11.5 billion; and Citigroup, $5.5 billion, in the next six months. The results culminated an unprecedented process by the government to test the top 19 banks that control two-thirds of the nation’s financial assets. The tests found banks such as JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs and Bank of New York Mellon  were strong and well-capitalized to weather a downturn.

Three banks that received a clean bill of health on their stress tests are announcing plans to raise capital to repay taxpayer loans they got last fall. Minneapolis-based U.S. Bancorp is offering $2.5 billion of common stock, and Virginia-based Capital One Financial is planning to sell 56 million new common shares — worth about $1.76 billion at Friday’s close. North Carolina-based BB&T says it will sell $1.5 billion worth of common stock, and will also cut its dividend 68% to 15 cents to save $725 million annually, after following 37 years of dividend increases.

Other Economic News

Consumer borrowing plunged in March at the fastest pace in 18 years as Americans put away their credit cards and hoarded cash amid the worst recession in decades. The Federal Reserve said Thursday that consumer borrowing dropped 5.2% in March. In dollar terms, consumer borrowing plunged $11.1 billion. That’s the largest dollar amount on records dating to 1943, and more than three times the $3.5 billion drop that economists expected.

The Federal Reserve said Thursday that banks and investment firms borrowed far less over the past week from its emergency lending program, a hopeful sign some credit stresses are easing. The Fed said commercial banks averaged $40.9 billion in daily borrowing over the past week ended Wednesday. That was down from $44.8 billion in the week that ended April 29. Investment firms drew just $643 million over the past week from the Fed program, down from an average of $5.5 billion the previous week.

Average, nationwide gasoline prices jumped to $2.23 Monday, up almost 20 cents over the past couple of weeks. The jump in pump price reflects even bigger increases in wholesale gasoline prices. The government’s most recent forecast, published April 14, says the full-year average for gasoline in 2009 will be $2.179, which has already been exceeded. Next year, it will average $2.42, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) says. Average for the April-September driving season will be $2.23, the agency says.

Toyota  lost 765.8 billion yen ($7.7 billion) in the January-March quarter, resulting in its first annual loss in six decades and making the fiscal year its worst since its founding in 1937. Toyota, whose quarterly loss was bigger than General Motors’, also warned Friday that because of the global auto slump its net loss would deepen in the year through March 2010.

Battered insurer American International Group said Thursday its first-quarter loss narrowed and was much smaller than the record-setting loss it posted a quarter ago. The New York-based insurance giant said it lost $4.35 billion, or $1.98 a share, during the quarter ended March 31, compared with $7.81 billion, or $3.09 a share, during the same quarter last year.

The Obama administration asked for an extra $2 billion for NASA missions Thursday, aiming for an $18.7 billion budget next year aimed at finishing the International Space Station, exploring Earth and its neighbors and continue aeronautics research.

Federal regulators on Friday shut down Westsound Bank of Bremerton, Wash., making it the 33rd bank to fail this year. The country’s wave of bank closures — particularly the expensive collapse of California’s IndyMac Bank— reduced the deposit insurance fund to $18.9 billion as of Dec. 31. That is the lowest level in nearly 25 years, and down 64% from $52.4 billion at the end of 2007. Over the next five years, the FDIC expects bank failures to cost the insurance fund around $65 billion. The fund is paid for by insured financial institutions.

Pakistan

Doctors rushed to treat wounded Pakistani civilians and desperate refugees looted U.N. supplies on Saturday, as thousands of troops backed by bomb-dropping warplanes sought to purge Taliban militants from a northwestern valley. Pakistan’s leaders, encouraged by the United States, launched a full-scale offensive in Swat this week to halt the spread of Taliban control in districts within 60 miles of the capital. But the fighting has caused hundreds of thousands of terrified residents to flee, adding a humanitarian emergency to the nuclear-armed nation’s security, economic and political problems.

A major Pakistani military offensive in the northwest has killed up to 700 militants in the past four days, and the operation will proceed until the last Taliban fighter in the area is ousted, the country’s top civilian security official said Monday. The U.N. said Monday that 360,600 displaced people had registered in camps and centers since May 2 after fleeing Swat and neighboring Dir and Buner districts. That’s on top of some 500,000 people registered as displaced due to past offensives — a major humanitarian test for the weak government.

Afghanistan

The U.S. military called “extremely over-exaggerated” a report that as many as 147 civilians died in an incident involving American forces and the Taliban. It said investigators on Friday were still analyzing data collected at the two sites in western Afghanistan. The dispute over how many people died comes as newly obtained video of the aftermath of the violence Monday and Tuesday showed bloodied bodies of children laid out with other corpses. The footage supports international Red Cross statements that children were among the victims. Afghan residents say the deaths and destruction were from aerial bombing. U.S. officials have suggested that Taliban insurgents caused at least some of the deaths.

United States forces in Afghanistan are accused of illegally deploying white phosphorus against civilians following a firefight with Taliban militants, according to published reports. White phosphorus is legal to use on a battlefield but illegal to deploy for any reason other than illumination. The chemical ignites on contact with the air. Human rights groups said using the substance in populated, civilian areas is a war crime, but the United States is not a signatory to any treaty which entirely bans its use. The American military denied using the incendiary in the battle in Farah province — which President Hamid Karzai has said killed 125 to 130 civilians — but left open the possibility that Taliban militants did.

U.N. Condemns Sri Lankan Bloodbath

The United Nations condemned a “bloodbath” in Sri Lanka’s northern war zone Monday after two days of shelling that a government doctor said killed at least 430 ethnic Tamil civilians — and likely as many as 1,000. With the civilian death toll skyrocketing in the civil war, a coalition of international human rights groups called for the U.N. Security Council to urgently hold talks on the conflict. A rebel-linked website blamed the attacks on the government, while the military accused the beleaguered Tamil Tigers insurgents of shelling their own territory to gain international sympathy and force a cease-fire. Human rights groups have accused the rebels of holding the civilians as human shields and shooting some who tried to flee. About 50,000 civilians are crowded into a 2.4 mile- (4 kilometer) long strip of coast along with the separatists, who have been fighting for 25 years for a homeland for minority Tamils.

Wildfires

Turning the horizon a lurid orange and raining embers on roofs as it advanced, a raging wildfire that has destroyed scores of homes in the hills menaced this celebrity enclave and other coastal towns Friday, and the number of people ordered to flee climbed to more than 30,000. Authorities warned an additional 23,000 to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice, despite improving weather conditions. Columns of smoke rose off the Santa Ynez Mountains as the 4-day-old blaze — fanned by “sundowner” winds that sweep down the slopes in the evening — blew up from 2,700 acres to 3,500 in less than a day, creating a firefighting front five miles long. Residents in all but a few neighborhoods of Santa Barbara have been allowed back in their homes as the arrival of cooler, moist ocean air allowed firefighters to gain the upper hand on a wildfire that destroyed dozens of homes.

Weather

Powerful thunderstorms and tornadoes battered parts of the Midwest on Friday, leaving four people dead, collapsing a church and knocking out power to thousands. Two people were killed near Poplar Bluff, Mo., when wind knocked a tree onto their sport-utility vehicle. In Dallas County, a man in his 70s had a fatal heart attack after he and his wife were sucked from their home by a tornado and thrown into a field 75 to 100 feet away. A mobile home was blown off its foundation in southeast Kansas, killing a 54-year-old woman inside.

Three days after the massive storm ripped across the Midwest, thousands are still without power. Residents in West Virginia’s southern coalfields are cleaning up the mess left by flooding that destroyed or damaged at least 400 buildings, knocked out power and caused mudslides. Several roads remained impassable Monday morning. Flooding spawned by heavy rain Friday and Saturday destroyed at least 400 buildings.

May 7, 2009

Senate Bombarded on ‘Pedophile Protection Act’

In its first day, hundreds of Americans have taken advantage of a unique campaign to sound off in opposition to new hate-crimes legislation on the fast track of the U.S. Senate by overnighting letters to individual senators at a significantly reduced price. Janet Porter, president of Faith2Action, organized the effort to utilize reduced rates for individual letters delivered by Fed Ex to individual senators in bulk quantities. Overnight letters not only have more impact, but can be assured of delivery in time to impact pending legislation. For only $10.95, any member of the public can send letters to all 100 senators, individually addressed and “signed” by the sender. The letters ask for a written response and call for opposition to the bill, including by filibuster if necessary.

“In the first 12 hours of this campaign alone, 500 orders were placed,” said Joseph Farah, founder and chief executive officer of WorldNetDaily. “That represents 50,000 actual letters to be distributed to 100 U.S. senators the next day. At the rate these orders are being placed, I would estimate we will see as many as 10,000 orders before we close out the offer. That will represent 1 million letters, all delivered by overnight express, to the 100 people who will decide the fate of this bill.” (Click on link above to send letters.)

Maine Becomes 5th State to Allow Gay Marriage

Maine’s governor signed a freshly passed bill Wednesday approving gay marriage, making it the fifth state to approve the practice and moving New England closer to allowing it throughout the region. New Hampshire legislators were also poised to send a gay marriage bill to their governor, who hasn’t indicated whether he’ll sign it. If he does, Rhode Island would be the region’s sole holdout. The Maine Senate voted 21-13, with one absent, for a bill that authorizes marriage between any two people rather than between one man and one woman, as state law currently allows.

Hawaii Lawmakers Vote to Celebrate ‘Islam Day’

Hawaii’s state Senate has overwhelmingly approved a bill to celebrate “Islam Day,” despite the objections of a few lawmakers who said they didn’t think the state should honor a religion connected to Sept. 11, 2001. The resolution to proclaim Sept. 24, 2009, as Islam Day passed the Senate on a 22-3 vote Wednesday. The bill was previously passed by Hawaii’s House of Representatives. The bill recognizes what it calls “the rich religious, scientific, cultural and artistic contributions” that Islam and the Islamic world have made. But the Senate’s two Republicans argued that radical Islamists cheered the 2001 attacks. They also noted that other religions didn’t have a special day honored.

  • Muslims are slowly taking over the world with the fertility weapon. As Western fertility rates shrink below replaceable levels, Muslims are reproducing at record levels and will soon be the majority population in many European countries. Historically, it takes a fertility rate of 2.1 to maintain a population. Europe is averaging about 1.5. Muslims are reproducing at an 8.1 fertility rate.

Mexico Opens for Business under Strict Rules

Most businesses in Mexico reopened Wednesday after being closed for five days because of the swine flu outbreak, but they faced a complex — and, to some people, utterly bewildering — set of new health restrictions, including a mandatory two empty seats between people at movie theaters. People leaving theaters or cinemas must do so in organized stages while keeping a space of “at least two steps” between them. Waiters at restaurants are forbidden from wearing ties, which the city government called a “reservoir for germs.” Restaurants in Mexico City must operate at no more than 50% capacity, not offer buffet service, and disinfect menus and salsa trays between servings.

President Obama Seeks only Modest Budget Cuts

President Obama is taking a scalpel, instead of an axe, to the federal budget. Obama’s promised line-by-line scrub of the federal budget has produced a roster of 121 budget cuts totaling $17 billion — or about one-half of 1 percent of the $3.4 trillion budget Congress has approved for next year. Those savings are far exceeded by a phone-book-sized volume detailing Obama’s generous increases for domestic programs that will accompany the call for cuts. And instead of devoting the savings to defray record deficits, the White House is funneling them back into other programs.

  • Our bloated bureaucratic government and its enormous debt will eventually, and probably soon, sink the ship of state.

New Unemployment Claims Drop

New applications for jobless benefits plunged to the lowest level in 14 weeks, a sign that the wave of layoffs may have peaked. Still, the number of unemployed workers continuing to get benefits climbed to a new record. The Labor Department says the number newly laid off workers applying for benefits dropped to 601,000 last week. But the number of people who are receiving jobless benefits climbed to 6.35 million, setting a record for a 14th straight week.

In a second report Thursday, the Labor Department said productivity, the key ingredient to rising living standards, grew at a 0.8% annual rate in the January-March quarter. The report showed that even though output plunged the first three months of the year, the number of hours worked fell more, reflecting widespread layoffs.

Wal-Mart, Target lead Encouraging Retail report

Consumers enticed by warmer weather and glimmers of hope for the economy bought more in April, helping boost sales results at established stores. Wal-Mart reported a stronger-than-expected 5% rise in sales at U.S. stores open at least a year, helped by demand for Easter merchandise. Target says same-store sales edged up 0.3% in April and it predicted first-quarter results will likely beat expectations. Overall, however, business remains weak, and many analysts expect a drawn-out recovery as layoffs keep increasing and other economic woes persist.

CEO Pay Dives in 2008

CEOs had a rough 2008. First, their image sank to new lows as the Wall Street and economic collapse fanned public outrage. Then most, even those far removed from the financial sector, took a blow to their wealth, as well. A USA TODAY analysis of executive compensation data provided by the Associated Press found that the median salary of a CEO running an S&P 500 company rose 3% last year to surpass $1 million. The median bonus and other incentive cash dropped 27% to $1.3 million, and total compensation was down 7% to $7.6 million.

  • Oh those poor execs, having to suffer a 7% pay cut. Their average $1 million salary and $1.3 million in bonuses is going to make life miserable.

GM Posts $6B Q1 Loss

General Motors posted a $6 billion first-quarter loss and said Thursday it burned through $10.2 billion cash the first three months of the year as revenue plummeted by $20 billion. Chief Financial Officer Ray Young said talk of the company going into reorganization under bankruptcy appears to have scared some consumers away from buying GM vehicles. GM faces a June 1 government deadline to finish a restructuring plan or go into bankruptcy. Revenue dropped 47%, from $42.4 billion a year ago to $22.4 billion in the latest quarter. Although the company cut structural costs by $3 billion, Young said that wasn’t enough to offset plunging revenue.

Pentagon to Add 20,000 Jobs; Revamp Contracting

Under pressure to overhaul its troubled weapons-buying process, the U.S. Defense Department is planning to add 20,000 new federal jobs over five years to reinforce its ability to handle contracts, cost estimates and oversight. As the department increases personnel, it also will move toward more fixed-price contracts, scrutinize programs more closely and link incentive payments to contractors’ performance. The changes are part of a broad effort to bring under control an acquisition process that has been plagued with huge cost overruns, lengthy delays and a sharp decline in competition among a shrinking number of contractors.

Post Office is $1.9 billion in Red

The post office was $1.9 billion in the red for the second quarter of the fiscal year and continues to face the possibility of running out of money before year’s end. The agency cited the recession and movement of mail to electronic communications in announcing the loss on Wednesday.  Postal rates go up on Monday, but the increase — to 44 cents for first-class mail — is unlikely to cover the entire shortfall. Work hours have been cut by 58 million hours so far this year, the equivalent of a reduction of 33,000 full-time employees. In addition, the post office has been seeking savings by consolidating excess capacity in mail processing and transportation networks, realigning carrier routes, halting construction of new postal facilities, freezing officer and executive salaries at 2008 pay levels and reducing travel budgets.

U.S., Pakistan & Afghanistan Vow Unity against Insurgents

President Obama and the presidents of Afghanistan and Pakistan heralded “unprecedented cooperation” Wednesday after a series of meetings aimed at creating a coordinated policy against insurgents threatening the security of both allies. Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan met with Obama and other U.S. officials in what Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called a “breakthrough” series of sessions. Their shared mountainous region is where insurgents of the fundamentalist Muslim Taliban, which ruled Afghanistan until 2001, have taken control of much of the countryside. Karzai and Zardari brought a host of government ministers who are slated to sit down today with senior U.S. officials, from the CIA director to the Agriculture secretary, to coordinate a counterinsurgency strategy that includes both civilian and military elements.

Police fired on rock-throwing protesters Thursday who were angry about civilian deaths they blame on American bombing runs in western Afghanistan, a local official said, as U.S. military and Afghan investigators examined the site. The International Red Cross and local officials said the people were killed by U.S. bombs, though the military said that may not have been the case.

There are no plans to deploy U.S. ground troops to Pakistan, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday, despite concerns over increasing violence between Pakistani troops and Taliban militants.

Wildfires

High winds and scorching temperatures pushed a mountain wildfire into the seaside resort community of Santa Barbara, Calif., on Wednesday, destroying homes and forcing thousands of people to flee. Fire officials extended mandatory evacuations to at least 2,000 homes Multiple homes could be seen engulfed in flames along hillsides.